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Visit These Ten Sites Celebrating Major Anniversaries in 2017

Smithsonian Magazine

From Europe to Africa to North America, 2017 is a year full of spectacular anniversaries – and plenty of travel opportunities. Jane Austen lovers can revel in the 200th anniversary of her birth, hikers can wind their way through Denali National Park and history buffs can visit Germany to honor Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses.

Founding of Denali National Park & Preserve – 100 Years

Image by sarkophoto / iStock. Denali Mountain reflected in Wonder Lake, Alaska (original image)

Image by evenfh / iStock. Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska (original image)

Image by zzvision / iStock. Mount McKinley (original image)

As recently as 2016, the mountain towering over the park’s 6 million acres was named Mount McKinley, after the American president whose popularity soared following his assassination in 1901. Assisted by the Boone and Crocket Club (a hunting and conservation league), naturalist Charles Sheldon lobbied Congress to establish it as a national park, fulfilling his goal in 1917, when Congress established the park and named it for McKinley. But in 1980, in a compromise arrived at by Congress, the park changed its name to Denali National Park, after the native Athabascan name for the mountain, while the mountain remained McKinley. In 2015, President Obama visited the country’s tallest mountain to officially declare the mountain would return to its indigenous designation of Denali.

Despite the winter season, the Park Service is hosting birthday festivities this February that will include snowshoe walks, skiing, ranger-led bike rides, and the Human Hundred Centennial Challenge (which requires logging 100 human-powered miles across the terrain, be it on foot, ski, sled or by bike). 

The Virgin Islands Become Part of the U.S.– 100 Years

Image by cdwheatley / iStock. Carambola Beach, St.Croix (original image)

Image by Starcevic / iStock. Caribbean colonial architecture in St. Thomas (original image)

Image by Mirrorimage-NL / iStock. The Battery in St. John (original image)

This year is the 100th anniversary of the transfer of the islands of St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas from Denmark to the United States for $25 million. Plans for purchasing the islands began in 1867, with Secretary of State William Henry Seward hoping to extend U.S. territory and influence through peaceful means. But it wasn’t until after the sinking of the Lusitania in 1917 that the islands became truly important to U.S. foreign policy. At that point, the government, fearing the German annexation of Denmark could lead to Germany using the Danish West Indies as a naval base, opened negotiations to purchase the islands from the Scandinavian nation.

Located about 40 miles from Puerto Rico, the islands offer innumerable opportunities for exploring the natural world and the history of the Caribbean. Visitors can snorkel Hurricane Hole off St. John, a vibrant coral reef filled with a rare abundance of species, or stop by the Whim Plantation Museum on St. Croix to see an authentic Dutch sugar estate from the 1700s. To make the journey even more enticing, the U.S. Virgin Islands Centennial Commemoration is offering $300 in spending credits for anyone who comes to one of the three islands for three nights or more, books their travel before October 1, 2017, and stays at a participating hotel.

Ghana’s Independence – 60 Years

Image by demerzel21 / iStock. Elmina Castle World Heritage Site, History of Slavery (original image)

Image by EunikaSopotnicka / iStock. Nkrumah Memorial Park, Accra, Ghana (original image)

Image by mtcurado / iStock. Market day on the creek in Ghana, Elmina (original image)

After decades of colonial rule, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African nation to throw off its European imperialists and declare independence on March 6, 1957. The independence movement was led by Kwame Nkrumah, who fought for sovereignty throughout Africa, saying “Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.” Although Ghana dealt with corruption and economic mismanagement early in its history, it has since recovered and become a model of political reform. Celebrate Ghana’s independence with chichinga beef kabob while listening to horn and guitar infused Highlife music. To learn more about Ghana’s history and connection to the Atlantic slave trade, visit the slave castles that once served as fortified trading posts and later shifted to holding slaves.

Celebrations commemorating the anniversary will be held in the capital city of Accra, where an annual Independence Day Parade will be held on March 6.

Jane Austen’s Death – 200 Years

Image by Sunnybeach / iStock. Entrance to the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, United Kingdom (original image)

Image by AmandaLewis / iStock. Jane Austen's House (original image)

Image by Wikimedia Commons. Inscription on Jane Austen's House (original image)

Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley—Jane Austen has given the world some of its most memorable romantic entanglements. Though Austen never married, she created a world populated with love and longing and social blunders. Her stories have played a role in the public consciousness ever since.

To recapture some of her magic, there will be celebrations all across England. A Grand Jane Austen Ball near Winchester, multiple live performances in Hampshire, Jane Austen Study Day at the British Library and plenty of events at Jane Austen’s House Museum. And if you’re lucky, the Jane-embossed British 5 pound note, which is worth nearly $25,000.

Canada’s Independence – 150 Years

Image by Murphy_Shewchuk / iStock. Norse sod hut at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland (original image)

Image by lightphoto / iStock. 'Anse Aux Meadows Viking Settlement (original image)

Image by Barbara Vallance / iStock. The plaque explaining the timeline and historical significance of the L'anse aux Meadows site in Newfoundland, Canada, by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. (original image)

America’s neighbor to the north is celebrating a big anniversary in 2017: the 150th year of independence. Home to indigenous people for thousands of years, the country was first colonized by Vikings from Iceland at l’Anse aux Meadows on the island of Newfoundland. Several hundred years later, John Cabot’s 1497 expedition resulted in the first map of Canada’s east coast. In the following years, the nation was tugged between Britain and France, as its modern multilingual regions prove. As the country evolved and grew, the movement for a Canadian federation arose alongside the desire for a national railroad system and a solution to the conflict between French and British factions. Canada Day marks the occasion of three provinces becoming one country. On July 1, 1867, the Constitution Act united Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Canada province (including Ontario and Quebec). In the following decade, the country acquired the provinces of Manitoba and Prince Edward Island as well as the possessions of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary, all national parks will be free and open to the public, and there will be numerous celebrations throughout the year, from National Aboriginal Day (celebrating indigenous people with concerts and powwows) to Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day (which celebrates French heritage in the province of Quebec). Travelers can also visit the historic tall ships that will be visiting 30 Canadian ports over the summer.

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses – 500 Years

Image by typo-graphics / iStock. Church Reformer Martin Luther (original image)

Image by LiliGraphie / iStock. Market square in Wittenberg Monument of Martin Luther (original image)

Image by wayra / iStock. Wittenberg, Castle and Tower of All Saints Church (original image)

For the first decades of his life, Martin Luther was no more than an anonymous monk. But in 1517, after years of disagreeing with the practice of indulgences (in which parishioners could pay for their sins to be absolved without doing penance), he wrote a text that would profoundly shake and reshape religious tradition for the next 500 years. Luther’s 95 Theses criticized the Catholic Church, proclaimed the Bible as the central religious authority and claimed Christians could achieve salvation through their faith. His theses spurred the evolution of Protestantism, fracturing what had once been the central faith of Europe.

To celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther finishing his theses in Wittenberg, travel across Germany to learn about the age of Reformation. From museum exhibitions to church services, there are dozens of options for exploring Luther’s life and the impact of his teachings.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – 125 Years 

Image by itchySan / iStock. Sherlock Holmes museum (original image)

Image by itchySan / iStock. Sherlock Holmes' address sign, 221 B Baker Street, London. (original image)

Image by LiubovTerletska / iStock. The Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street (original image)

For fans of Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Britain’s preeminent detective, there’s reason to celebrate: 2017 marks the 125th year of the publishing of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle was a doctor by training, and wrote his Sherlock Holmes mysteries in his spare time, inspired by authors like Edgar Allan Poe. In addition to his medical and literary work, he also traveled as a ship’s surgeon on a whaling boat in the Arctic Circle and later to Africa. Eventually, after a virulent flu nearly killed him, Conan Doyle abandoned his medical career to focus solely on his writing.

Celebrate the mystery of the famed author’s creation with a Sherlock Holmes Anniversary Tour around London, go on a multi-day tour around England, or visit the Museum of London for a dedicated exhibition this fall. You can also revisit the original stories online.

Marie Curie’s Birth – 150 Years

Image by Wikimedia Commons. An exhibition at the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum in Warsaw (original image)

Image by Wikimedia Commons. Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum in Warsaw (original image)

Image by fotokon / iStock. Birthplace of Marie Sklodowska-Curie on Freta Street in Warsaw (original image)

Marie Curie was a woman of firsts. The first woman in Europe to receive a doctorate of science, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for physics with her husband and Henri Becquerel (for the discovery of radioactivity) and the first—and so far only—person to win a Nobel Prize in a second science (chemistry). Sadly, her work on radioactivity was also what ultimately ended her life.

Curie’s is a life well worth celebrating and 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of her birth. The Museum of Marie Sklodowska-Curie in Poland (where she was born) will feature a new exhibit in honor of her birth, and the Musée Curie in France (where she worked) offers several anniversary exhibits throughout the year.

Langston Hughes’s Death – 50 Years

Image by Elvert Barnes / Flickr. Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (original image)

Image by Wikimedia Commons. Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (original image)

Image by Wikimedia Commons. Langston Hughes house at 20 East 127th on National Register of Historic Places in New York City (original image)

Poet, novelist, jazz aficionado and one of the leading members of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes died 50 years ago this year. He wrote extensively about black life in America. Inspired by the likes of Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg, Hughes worked to give an honest perspective of life for African-Americans, which earned him a fair amount of criticism from other writers. But he was also an inspiration, and as Du Bose Heyward wrote in 1926, when Hughes was only 24, “always intensely subjective, passionate, keenly sensitive to beauty and possessed of an unfaltering musical sense.”

To celebrate his life, you can stroll by the poet’s Harlem home, where he lived for the last 20 years of his life and which reflects his involvement in the Harlem Renaissance. It was saved from gentrification in 2016 and is now being turned into a cultural center. You can also visit the National Museum of African American History And Culture in Washington, D.C. to see the massive display of Hughes’s poem “I, Too” on the wall of the new museum.

Finland’s Independence – 100 Years

Image by Ojimorena / iStock. People skating on the rink on The Helsinki Icepark at the Railway Station Square (original image)

Image by Jekurantodistaja / iStock. People watching Candy House light art installation by Sun Effects collective displayed on the exterior of Ateneum Art Museum at the Lux Helsinki light arts festival (original image)

Image by Jekurantodistaja / iStock. Helsinki Samba Carnaval in Helsinki, Finland (original image)

Beginning as early as 1155, Finland slowly fell under the dominion of Sweden, the regional power. Despite hundreds of years of living under Swedish rule, the ethnic Finns maintained their language and gradually developed their own culture beyond that of more general Nordic culture, including music produced by the ancient string instrument called the kantele and their smoke saunas. In the beginning of the 19th century, Finland came under Russian control as a spoil of war between Sweden and Russia, becoming an autonomous Grand Duchy, which meant Finns had a role in governance but the Russian emperor in St. Petersburg was ultimately the highest ruler. But after more than 100 years under Russia, the country sought its independence. In 1917, taking advantage of the Russian Revolution, the Finnish Parliament approved a declaration of independence, resulting in a civil war and ultimately the establishment of the Finnish republic.  

To celebrate 100 years of the country’s independence, Finland will be hosting events across the country and throughout the year. There will be concerts, ice skating tours and art exhibits from the artist cooperative ONOMA

Brazil's National Museum Hopes to Partially Reopen in 2022

Smithsonian Magazine

A year has passed since a catastrophic fire gutted Brazil’s National Museum, destroying a majority of the 20 million artifacts in the 200-year-old building’s collections. Now, the museum says it plans to reopen the doors to one wing in 2022, in time to celebrate Brazil’s 200th anniversary.

Denise Pires de Carvalho, the dean of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, which is in charge of the museum, announced the plan at a press conference at the Brazilian Academy of Sciences. “Our intention is to inaugurate a part of the reconstructed palace in 2022 with expositions that let us celebrate the bicentennial of Brazil’s independence,” Pires said, according to Tanner West at artnet News.

The museum has raised about $16.4 million of the $30 million needed to reconstruct one section. The price tag to rebuild the entire museum is ballparked at around $125 million, though Gabriella Angeleti at The Art Newspaper reports that a more precise estimate will be available in the next few months.

So far, the Brazilian government has released less than 2 percent of the $14 million reconstruction budget set aside for the museum, which Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro recently cut down to $11 million. NGOs, Unesco and foreign governments including Germany are also contributing funds. Crews are expected to begin restoring the building’s roof and façade this month.

Eleven artifacts that survived the fire have also gone on view at another museum, per the Associated Press. “I will suffer every day of my life because of this tragedy,” museum director Alexander Kellner said at the opening of the exhibition of the artifacts. “But today, we are turning the page and starting a new, necessary phase of reconstructing the museum. We are very optimistic.”

Initially, it was believed that 90 percent of the artifacts stored in the museum were lost. Over the last year, that number has been revised down. About half of the museum’s holdings—17 out of 34 collections—were completely or partially destroyed. That estimate includes the entomology collection, which stored 5 million specimens, and the native cultures collection, which included artifacts from Brazil’s indigenous peoples.

According to reporting by earlier this year, researchers have discovered more than 2,000 pieces in the rubble, including the 11,500-year-old skull of Luzia, the oldest human found in the Americas, and fragments of the museum’s most popular dinosaur skeleton.

At the press conference officials announced the recovery of other items, including a samurai mask and bronze statue of the Egyptian goddess Bastet. Other recovered items are being chronicled on the museum’s post-fire rescue portal.

While reconstruction on the museum is moving ahead, Kellner, the museum director, tells the AP that the effort is slow moving and frustrating. He was recently told by one agency that he needed a document proving that the fire happened. “I plead to the people who govern Brazil ... rethink all this bureaucracy,” he said.

From a shaman's notebook [sound recording] : primitive and archaic poetry / arranged by Jerome Rothenberg, with David Antin, Jackson Maclow, and Rochelle Owens

Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections
Cover design by Ronald Clyne. Cover illustration: "American Indian Bronze Bird, 15th-16th century?, Ohio".

Read by Jerome Rothenberg, David Antin, Jackson Maclow, and Rochelle Owens.

Related materials may be found in the Moses and Frances Asch Collection, also held by this repository. Related materials may include correspondence between the studio, producers, and/or performers; original cover art designs; original production materials; business records; and audiotapes from studio production.

The album of indigenous poetry from around the world is divided into two programs: side 1 is "Spells and Charms" and side 2 is "Rites and Visions."

Carved Wood Rattle

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Accession file identifies original #90, Catalogue Nos. E20874 - 75, as 2 war rattles. Anthropology catalogue ledger book identifies them as from Koutznow [i.e. Hutsnuwu people, which was transcribed on the catalogue card as Kountznow], Chatham Strait [listed as Chatham Sound on catalogue card], Alaska. Prince of Wales Island has been written on the artifacts themselves by the museum cataloguer and added to the catalogue cards. The catalogue entry on this object in "The Far North" exhibit catalogue, assumed the object was Tlingit, probably from Admiralty Island from the vicinity of Angoon, but noted that the reverse side of the rattle is inscribed Klemmakoon (which is a term Swan used for the Haida town of Klinkwan, which is on Prince of Wales Island.)

This object is on loan to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, from 2010 through 2022.

Source of the information below: Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska Native Collections: Sharing Knowledge website, by Aron Crowell, entry on this artifact , retrieved 1-5-2012: Rattle, Tlingit This very large, round rattle may have been used during war to coordinate an attack or to strike fear and confusion into the enemy. George Ramos (Tlingit) said that rattles like this had been described to him as part of a war leader's outfit. Round stones were traditionally collected at low tide to put inside. The abstract designs may represent a whale or frog, but are difficult to interpret. During Elders discussions in 2005 (see web page cited above for transcription), Donald Gregory (Tlingit) and Delores Churchill (Haida) identified the wood as possibly alder.

Plymouth Rock and Other Massachusetts Monuments Vandalized With Red Graffiti

Smithsonian Magazine

The town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, is gearing up to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower, which docked on the shores of the New World in December 1620. But on Monday, residents awoke to find that several monuments associated with the Pilgrims’ arrival—most notably Plymouth Rock—had been vandalized overnight.

According to Johnny Diaz of the New York Times, a still-unidentified vandal (or group of vandals) spray painted the letters “MOF” and the numbers 508 in red across the rock, which, according to legend, marks the spot where the Pilgrims disembarked before establishing Plymouth Colony, the first colonial settlement in New England. The culprits also defaced the Pilgrim Maiden Statue, which honors the women who settled Plymouth; the National Monument to the Forefathers; a bench that pays tribute to the daughters of the colonists who arrived in Plymouth in 1623; and four artworks in the shape of scallop shells.

“The defacement of these symbols of Plymouth’s history, or any public property for that matter, is unfathomable and unconscionable,” wrote town manager Melissa G. Arrighi in a Monday Facebook post. “The Town of Plymouth Police are actively seeking those responsible and will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”

Plymouth Public Works crews quickly set about cleaning the graffiti, reports Katie Mettler for the Washington Post, and by Monday evening, Arrighi had taken to Twitter to praise the team’s efforts as “remarkable.”

Arrighi tells the Times that some spots required chemical treatment because red paint had seeped into the stone, but by and large, she says, the markers “look good right now.”

Authorities have yet to identify the culprits, but as Rich Harbert reports for Wicked Local, Plymouth resident Kevin Depathy has launched a fundraising campaign in hopes of raising enough reward money to encourage those with information to come forward. As of Thursday afternoon, the GoFundMe campaign had raised $1,425 toward its stated goal of $2,000.

This is far from the first time Plymouth Rock has been vandalized. In 2014, after vandals spray painted the word “lies” onto the historic monument, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation told the Boston Globe’s Jacqueline Tempera that “this kind of thing happens two to five times a year.” Still, this week’s defacement marks a departure from the past in both its scale and timing.

The vandals’ motives—and whether the graffiti is linked to the upcoming anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival—remain unclear. But as the Associated Press points out, previous political demonstrations at Plymouth Rock have emphasized the Pilgrims’ mistreatment of and encroachment on the indigenous people who occupied the area long before the colony’s establishment. Every Thanksgiving, members of United American Indians of New England gather near Plymouth Rock to commemorate a National Day of Mourning for the “genocide of millions of native people, the theft of native lands and the relentless assault on native culture.”

Plymouth Rock, located in Pilgrim Memorial State Park on the shore of Plymouth Harbor, is one of the nation’s most iconic landmarks. It is said to be the place where William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Colony, first stepped onto land in 1620—though the two surviving firsthand accounts of the colony’s foundation do not mention the boulder. (And, in truth, the Pilgrims spent a month exploring Cape Cod before deciding to settle in Plymouth.)

“It wasn’t until 1741, when a wharf was to be built over it, that 94-year-old Thomas Faunce, a town record keeper and the son of a pilgrim who arrived in Plymouth in 1623, reported the rock’s significance,” wrote Megan Gambino for Smithsonian magazine in 2011. “Ever since, Plymouth Rock has been an object of reverence, as a symbol of the founding of a new nation.”

During a recent gathering of Smithsonian Institution scholars, Kenneth Cohen of the National Museum of American History posited that the historical elevation of Plymouth rock stemmed from the “Sublime” aesthetic movement, which emerged in the mid-18th century and sought to stir the strongest possible emotion through art.

“[I]t evolved into a mode that emphasized nature’s power through scale, force and harshness,” said Cohen, as quoted by Smithsonian magazine’s Nadine Daher.

Attaching symbolic importance to this single boulder, he added, fuels a mythology that narrows the broader context of the Pilgrims’ arrival.

“It encapsulates Euro-American historical memory that this lone rock, not the shoreline, not the fields, and above all not the people who already lived there, are what they made the focus,” Cohen explained. “To combat the myth, we’ve got to push our visitors so they can look up over the top, and see all the sand, the fields, and above all, the Native peoples who have been busting this myth for centuries already.”

No one can deny that Plymouth Rock has become a fixture of the public consciousness; its defacement certainly prompted strong reactions among locals.

“Outrage. It was disappointment. It was disgust,” Arrighi tells the Times. “The level of disrespect and not caring about public property and the historic community, it’s shocking.”

Canada - Cultural Destinations

Smithsonian Magazine

The Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton is not to be missed—particularly the Syncrude Gallery of Aboriginal Culture; with more than 3,000 pieces, it is the largest collection of First People's material in North America.

Calgary's Glenbow Museum, western Canada's largest museum, is home to more than a million artifacts and 28,000 works of art, largely featuring Canadian and Asian art, with an additional focus on cultural and military history.

No matter what time of year you visit Alberta, you will likely come across a major festival, fair, rodeo, or other fete. While Canadians across the country love their celebrations, Edmonton has been dubbed "Canada's Festival City" and key events there range from the Heritage Festival to the International Film Festival to the Symphony Under the Sky. Not to be outdone, the Rockies, Calgary area and Alberta south, central and north offer a plethora of options including the Big Valley Jamboree in Camrose, the Waterton Wildflower Festival at Waterton Lakes National Park and the Banff Summer Arts Festival.

British Columbia
From the artistic community of Vancouver's Granville Island where painters, metalworkers, ceramicists and other artisans ply their trades, to Hazleton's 'Ksan Historical Village, a recreation of the ancient Gitanmaax village, British Columbia offers culture seekers myriad options.

The Victoria Classic Boat Festival brings up to 130 boats together over Labour Day weekend and bestows awards like the Best Restored Sail to attendees who have painstakingly worked to preserve or restore their vessels. The event is free to the public and many boats are available for walkthroughs.

The Pacific Rim Whale Festival, held in March on the west coast of Vancouver Island, brings visitors to the water during the peak of gray whale migration. Nearly 22,000 whales make the annual pilgrimage from the Mexican Baja Peninsula to arctic waters, all but guaranteeing sightings aboard boats and float planes or from public viewing stations at Amphitrite Point Lighthouse and Wickaninnish Centre.

British Columbia is home to Canada's only desert and the The Nk'Mip (in-ka-meep) Desert Cultural Centre in Osoyoos hopes to teach visitors about the fragility of the area. The Centre, which opened in 2006 and sits on the 200-acre Nk'Mip Resort, was designed to co-exist with its surroundings; it was built into a hillside, using desert-like material such as rammed earth walls and a green roof. Guests explore indoor and outdoor gallery spaces, walk 50 acres of self-guided trails through the Great Basin Desert, and observe the Western Rattlesnake, considered a "threatened species" by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The Osoyoos Indian Band, in partnership with the Canadian Wildlife Service, launched the Rattlesnake Research Project and the centre offers public viewing areas where visitors can watch researchers capture rattlesnakes and tag them with microchips so they may be observed in the wild.

In July, Manitoba is awash in color as residents celebrate the annual Neepawa and Area Lily Festival. As of 2004, Neepawa was home to more than 2,000 named varieties of lilies, many in the five lily parks throughout town. During the three day festival, 11,000 to 12,000 people join the fun for activities like bus tours, a Breakfast among the Lilies, a barbeque, dances and a quilt show.

Dauphin is home to a variety of sites celebrating the area's Ukrainian Heritage. The more than 10,000 seat Selo Ukraina amphitheatre hosts Canada's three-day National Ukrainian Festival annually, the largest of its kind in North America, and the Ukrainian Heritage Village, with its homes, farm buildings, church, school and artifacts, depicts a pioneer town between 1896 and 1925.

New Brunswick
For the artistically inclined, a visit to New Brunswick should include a visit to The Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, where the crown jewel in a collection of primarily Canadian and British paintings, tapestries and furniture, is Salvador Dalí's Santiago el Grande.

The province has a festival for nearly every subject and occasion, from the King's County Covered Bridge Festival, in honor of the county's 16 covered bridges, to the annual Chocolate Fest in St. Stephen, "Canada's Chocolate Town," to a variety of aboriginal festivals.

As with each of the seaside provinces, New Brunswick has lighthouses for visitors to explore—24 dot the coastline here—and guests will also enjoy farmers markets, artists' studios and public gardens.

Newfoundland and Labrador
An artistic spirit lives on in Newfoundland and Labrador, where large galleries and museums thrive like The Rooms in St. John's, which combines the Provincial Museum, the Provincial Art Gallery and the Provincial Archives. The Rooms, positioned on the site of Fort Townshend, a citadel built to protect British fishing interests, now houses exhibits highlighting area history and wildlife, as well as a gallery featuring rotating works and a permanent collection of some 7,000 pieces.

The area boasts hundreds of lighthouses, many still in operation and others that have been painstakingly restored to their original condition—for interested visitors, some have even been made into bed and breakfasts and restaurants. Perhaps the most famous is the Cape Spear Lighthouse, the oldest surviving example in the province built in 1836, which now offers visitors a perfect vantage point to glimpse whales, birds and icebergs.

Northwest Territories
The Northwest Territories is home to a range of skilled craftsmen, working on projects as varied as birchbark baskets make by Slavey women in Fort Liard; drums created using caribou rawhide; moosehair tufting, a form of embroidery honed by women in the Mackenzie Valley; and porcupine quillwork, a nearly lost art still practiced by some in this area who use dyed quills for decorative work.

For a peek into the past, visit The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, which boasts an impressive collection with the goal of preserving the culture and heritage of the local people. Permanent pieces in the Aviation Gallery and Feature Gallery—including the only known preserved moose skin boat—are supplemented with a variety of temporary exhibits on Northern art.

Nova Scotia
Pier 21 is a must-see for visitors to Halifax. More than 1.5 million immigrants came through this site between 1928 and 1971 and Pier 21 is now Canada's Immigration Museum, with a 5,000 square foot Harbourside Gallery for traveling exhibits, and the Scotiabank Research Centre, which maintains information on migration, nautical history, immigration patterns and ethnic groups, as well as oral histories and archival images.

With a 40-foot statue of Glooscap—considered by the aboriginal Mi'kmaq people to be the first human—in front of the Glooscap Heritage Centre in Truro, this stop will be a hard one to miss. The center features early stone tools, weavings, porcupine quillwork, traditional clothing and other artifacts that bring the Mi'kmaq history to life, as well as a multimedia presentation of the group's history and an audio exhibit that teaches visitors about the language and how to say a few words. For more on the Mi'kmaq, the Novia Scotia Museum's Mi'kmaq Portraits are a collection of more than 700 portraits and illustrations, which offer a look into history and heritage through images.

Should visitors find themselves in Nova Scotia in the fall, consider spending time at the Celtic Colours International Festival, a nine-day annual celebration of Celtic music and culture in Cape Breton. The festival plays host to some 40 concerts, 200 community events and a series of workshops and exhibitions.

The relatively new territory of Nunavut takes its history quite seriously and local festivals and sights meld heritage with contemporary fun. The Toonik Tyme festival, held in Iqaluit every April since 1965, marks the return of spring with a weeklong celebration including traditional Inuit activities as well as more modern pursuits such as snowmobile races and ice golf.

Alianait!, a four year old multicultural festival in Iqaluit, promises ten days of art, music, film, storytelling, circus arts, dance and theatre in June. The festivities celebrate the return of summer and, with it, nearly round-the-clock daylight in this arctic location.

While visiting Iqaluit, take a side-trip to the Qaummaarviit Territorial Historic Park. The island was settled by the Thule people some 250 years before Columbus came to America and archaeological discoveries there have been plentiful—more than 3,000 tools and 20,000 bones as well as 11 semi-buried sod houses.

For visitors interested in Ontario's history, the Whetung Ojibwa Centre on the Curve Lake Indian Reserve with its collection of Indian crafts, sculpture, fine art and handiwork, and the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre near Stratton, with its ancient burials mounds, are two excellent places to start.

Toronto has a can't-miss set of offerings—the Museum of Inuit Art, Scarborough Historical Museum, Royal Ontario Museum and Canadian Opera Company are just the tip of the cultural iceberg.

Ottawa's National Gallery of Canada, established in 1880, is now the largest visual arts museum in Canada. With extensive collections of Canadian, indigenous, European, American and Asian art, photographs, prints, drawings and contemporary pieces, the National Gallery has something to appeal to every taste.

Prince Edward Island
For many, Price Edward Island will forever be the home of Anne of Green Gables, but Canada's smallest province has much more to offer than one literary leading lady.

Museums such as the Orwell Corner Historic Village and the Green Park Shipbuilding Museum pay homage to PEI's past and the province is a treasure trove for lighthouse lovers. Visitors in PEI during the holidays will enjoy the WinterTide festival, which celebrates the season with a wreath display, performance of Handel's Messiah, and nativity pageant, among other activities.

Of course, curious visitors can also visit Green Gables, which inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery to write the famed novel, as well as Montgomery's home, the Anne of Green Gables Museum, Avonlea village, and even the annual Lucy Maud Montgomery Festival.

With 400 museums, Quebec has quite a bit to offer lovers of history, arts and sciences. From big names like the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, with more than 30,000 pieces, to smaller options such as the Musée du Fjord, focusing on the history of the Saguenay Fjord, Quebec has something for everyone.

Montreal, the second largest French-speaking city in the world, is an appealing amalgamation of a European sensibility, unique use of underground space, extensive park system, modern architecture, and appreciation for the arts. Well over half of Montreal residents speak both French and English, making it easy for visitors from the United States to make their way around the city.

Québecers love to celebrate and one of the province's most unique happenings is the annual kite festival. Officially the "Festi-Vent sur glace," the festival brings international kite flyers to a frozen lake in Saint-Placide each February to showcase their skills while tens of thousands of guests take in the colors dotting the sky.

Wanuskewin Heritage Park is a 760 acre area near Saskatoon with 19 sites representing the North Plains peoples. The purposes of many of the sites are understood—including bison hunting areas, tipi rings, and campsites—but others remain unknown. The park's interpretive centre can coordinate storytellers, speakers and dance presentations for visitors, all with the goal of education guests about the Northern Plains First Nations people. The Wanuskewin Heritage Park Gallery onsite maintains a collection of works primarily by First Nations artists.

The Notukeu Heritage Museum began as the private collection of Henri Liboiron, a former resident of Ponteix, Saskatchewan, who started amassing artifacts in 1940. Liboiron spent decades collecting objects in the area—many of them thousands of years old—and originally created a museum in his basement, before the collection was moved to its current location.

Keno City's Keno Mining Museum displays the history of gold and silver mining in the area dating back to the early 1900s. Housed in part in a 1920's dance hall, the museum is open June through September in the very small community of Keno City.

Not far from there, the Kluane Museum of Natural History in Burwash Landing features artifacts, clothing and tools of the Southern Tutchone people, as well as diorama-style displays of the 70 species of wildlife in the Yukon. For a unique souvenir, visitors may purchase hand-made, moose-hide moccasins in the museum gift shop.

Offering interpretive programs, performances and exhibits, the Danoja Zho Cultural Centre (meaning Long Time Ago House) in Dawson City is open May-September and by appointment during the remainder of the year. The centre explores the history and heritage of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in people through artifacts, reproductions and photographs.

Dawson City visitors may also be interested to see the Jack London Cabin and Interpretive Centre, where the White Fang and Call of the Wild author lived during the Klondike Gold Rush; the facility is open mid-May through mid-September.

And no Dawson City visit would be complete without a stop at the Dawson City Museum, which features not only exhibits highlighting the area's mining history and the Tr'ondek Hwech'in people, but also houses three Klondike Mines Railway locomotives, one of which is considered one of the oldest conserved rail cars in Canada.

Carved Pipe Of Wood, Copper Bowl

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
FROM CARD: "4/18/67: LOANED TO VANCOUVER ART GALL. 12/13/67: RETURNED BY VANCOUVER. SEE CAT.#S 1127-31 FOR MORE INFO. ILLUS. IN USNM AR, 1888; P. 48, FIG. 271, P. 322. 4/17/67 LOAN DATA: OK. 8 ABALONE INLAYS. LOAN: CROSSROADS SEP 22 1988. ILLUS.: CROSSROADS OF CONTINENTS CATALOGUE FIG.317, P.237. LOAN RETURNED: JAN 21 1993." Crossroads catalogue caption identifies as: "Pipe inlaid with abalone. Haida. Thunderbird, octopus, men, and monsters adorn this tobacco pipe that has a bowl lined with sheet copper."


This object is on loan to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, from 2010 through 2022.

Source of the information below: Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska Native Collections: Sharing Knowledge website, by Aron Crowell, entry on artfact , retrieved 6-24-2012: Pipe, i.e. tobacco pipe The carved figures on this Haida pipe include an octopus, a horned animal, and an eagle or thunderbird holding a mask with a human face. No Haida interpretation of this crest imagery was recorded by collector Charles S. Bulkley, who headed the Canadian section of the Western Union Telegraph project during 1865-67. Bulkley acquired the pipe at a village in the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia.

Shaman's Rattle

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

This object is on loan to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, from 2010 through 2022.

Source of the information below: Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska Native Collections: Sharing Knowledge website, by Aron Crowell, entry on this artifact, retrieved 3-31-2012: Rattle, Tsimshian. Frogs appear often on shamanic art because they were imagined as primordial, partly human creatures that retained supernatural power from early times. They lived in the dark before Raven brought the sun, and they made fun of the great trickster; in anger he caused the North Wind to blow the frogs away and freeze them onto rocks. This shaman’s rattle shows frogs that appear with the rain, springing from the eyes of South Wind, who brings rain and desires the world to be green as in spring. The back of the rattle shows the wind’s arms, legs, and body. “He is showing this look, like a trance; the eyes are underneath the lids, rolled back. Having these frogs come out, too – frogs were the shaman’s messengers.” - David Boxley (Tsimshian), 2009.

Climate Change Will Green Greenland

Smithsonian Magazine

Greenland may eventually resemble the lush Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Photo by John Schoen, Anchorage

History teachers often point out the humor in Greeland’s name. That northerly land, after all, is anything but green. According to the Icelandic Sagas, Eric the Red–exiled from Iceland for the crime of murder–stumbled upon Greenland’s glacial shores in the late 10th century. Though “Coldland” or “Snowyland” would have been more apt, he dubbed the place “Grœnland” in the hopes of luring settlers to the remote outpost with the promise of bountiful forests and fields.

Eric the Red’s false advertising, however, may become more appropriate in the not-too-distant future, an international team of researchers report in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Climate change is quickly converting once-frozen tracts into potentially hospitable places for trees and shrubs. In some parts of the country, pieces of land have already opened up and only await a few chance seeds to blow in and begin the process of converting the rugged landscape into lush forest.

These findings sprouted up through a computer model the researchers built of Greenland’s predicted climate for the next 100 years. They overlaid that climate model with known data for various North American and European tree species’ ideal habitat niches. Within a century, they found, all 56 species of trees and shrubs they tested would likely be happy to take up residence or expand their reach in Greenland. Greenland, they predict, could start looking a lot more like Alaska or western Canada, though the exact composition of trees and bushes depends upon which species make it there first and take advantage of the new ecological niches.

Currently, only five species of trees or large shrubs occur naturally in Greenland–Greenland mountain ash, mountain alder, downy birch, grayleaf willow, and common juniper–and and those hardy plants grow only in scattered plots in the far south. Field experiments and ambitious gardening projects, however, have confirmed that a range of other species–including Siberian larch, white spruce, lodgepole pine and Eastern balsam poplar–can get a root-hold in Greenland if given the chance. Those species, along with the five other long-established native varieties, may begin to spread as temperatures warm. The team also predicts that invasive species–species not currently found on Greenland–will inevitably find their way to the island as well. How soon this will happen, however, remains a matter of speculation.

A forest in southern Greenland that was planted in 1953. Photo by Anders Ræbild

Without help, the researchers’ models indicate that some species of trees would take around 2,000 years to find their way to a hospitable patch of Greenland soil. In today’s age of tourism and regular flights between continents, however, the plants will most likely receive some significant, though inadvertent, colonization assistance. Researchers and tourists alike tramp around with all sorts of seeds unknowingly stuck to their shoes. A study conducted in Svalbard, an archipelago north of Norway with a similar ecosystem as Greenland, found 1,019 seeds of 53 species clinging to just 259 travelers’ shoes. Twenty-six of those species germinated in Arctic conditions when given the opportunity. Migratory birds, likewise, have been known since the time of Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles Darwin to bring along seeds stuck to their plumage and feet or passed through their bowels.  

On the other hand, humans may just decide to plant the trees themselves. “People often plant utility and ornamental plants where they can grow,” Jens-Christian Svenning a biologist at Aarhus University and co-author of the paper, said in a press release. “I believe it lies in our human nature.”

However, he warns, if Greenland’s greening is left up to the locals, they should proceed with caution. “The Greenlandic countryside will be far more susceptible to introduced species in future than it is today,” he said. “So if importing and planting species takes place without any control, this could lead to nature developing in a very chaotic way.”

Whether human-mediated or not, this ecological shift, the team points out, would be no small change for Greenland. Their models predict the ice-free, tree-friendly patches to total around 400,000 square kilometers. If trees do move in, they could grow a new forest that’s nearly the size of Sweden.

While the idea of more green intuitively seems like a score for the environment, the shift from mossy tundra to towering forest will almost certainly push out some native plant and animal species. On the other hand, Greenlanders may enjoy a break from the monotony of ice, rock and lichen. Forests could bring recreational or economic possibilities, such as hunting and foraging for wood and natural edibles. Additionally, the researchers write, the trees may alleviate some of the erosion issues from quickly-trickling-away glaciers.

For better or for worse, however, just like Eric the Red we probably won’t get to see how the forests ultimately alter Greenland’s ecology. Even with human intervention, the researchers write, those forests probably won’t fully come into their own for centuries.  

Carved Post Or Totem Pole

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
From card: "After an extensive survey of the totem poles in the USNM collections, it seems likely that this specimen is the 'door post' presently on exhibit near the entrance to Halls 9 and 11. It was probably collected for the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition and may be one of the poles obtained from the HBC trader at Ft. Simpson. Based on the USNM NW Coast collection and current NW Coast literature, the treatment of this specimen resembles Tsimshian work. 6/6/68 GP. Earlier opinions have been noted as follows: 1962 - V. Garfield.........Tlingit. M. Barbeau..........S. Tlingit or N. Haida. W. Holm.............Tlingit. G. MacDonald - Tsimshian."

From card: "In 1990 this totem pole is on exhibit in Natural History Museum exhibit Hall 9/11 with the following label: "totem pole, probably Tlingit, Southeast Alaska. This tall cedar pole with a doorway at the bottom stood at the entrance to a Northwest Coast Indian home. The animals at the bottom are a grizzly bear and a killer whale. The figures at the top are called "watchmen.""

The original shipping labels are still attached to the back of this pole. A comparison was made of the numbers on these invoices with Swan's journal (Swan's papers at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver; Swan's correspondence with Smithsonian Secretary Spencer Baird in the Smithsonian Archives). In the James Swan papers in the University of Washington's Special Collections a voucher was found dated April 15 1875 which read "To 1 carved column from Fort Simpson, BC in 4 packages marked No 11J 1 to 4, $100". 11J is the only pole that Swan shipped in 4 sections and the Smithsonian pole is in 4 sections. These shipping records now lead us to believe that Swan obtained this pole from Fort Simpson in British Columbia and the pole was most likely made by the Tsimshian people. George F. MacDonald of the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Bill Reid Centre for Northwest Coast Art Studies at SFU has been working with the Tsimshian for many years and had been studying the poles of Fort Simpson. He pointed out several images, starting with an 1854 engraving of house fronts in Fort Simpson, that show what we believe to be the house with the pole in front of it. The engraving is of an 1852-1854 drawing by a member of the Virago crew done while they repaired their keel at Fort Simpson. There is also an 1867 sketch by Emil Teichmann, a drawing by Edwin Augustus Porcher from 1867 of the village of Lax Kw'alaams, and a George Horetzsky photograph of Fort Simpson in 1873. George MacDonald was trying to figure out why the pole had Haida style watchmen on top, when the 1854 Virago crewmember's drawing does not show watchmen. In the 1867 sketch by Emil Teichmann, the pole has watchmen on top. George MacDonald knew from other records that Haida had moved nearby around that time and he knew at least one Tsimshian chief had added watchmen to a Tsimshian pole out of influence from the Haida. Tlingit artists George and James Bennett and Tommy Joseph examined the pole and they all concluded that the wood of the watchmen are different pieces than the wood of the pole under it and they were added as a set long ago. See Anthropology Collections Lab accession file for additional information.

Source of the information below: Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska Native Collections: Sharing Knowledge website, by Aron Crowell, entry on this artifact , retrieved 3-12-2012: Totem pole.

A photo of this totem pole (in front of house front # E410732) outside the building at 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia is in the Free Library of Philadelphia collections and is available online: Centennial Photographic Co.. Indian curiosities from Puget Sound [sic]. Stereoviews. Free Library of Philadelphia: Philadelphia, PA. (accessed Feb 25, 2018).

Wawa-what? Wawawasi! Kids Activities at the Festival

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Family activities at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Photo by Jane Cave, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Family activities at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Photo by Jane Cave, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

If you plan to bring your whole family to the Folklife Festival, look for the big circular tent called the Wawawasi Kids Corner. This family activities area will feature interactive games and workshops highlighting the art and dance traditions found throughout the Perú: Pachamama program.

The Festival’s Kids Corner tent is named after El Wawawasi, a Peruvian program that provides pre-school education to low-income children, similar to Head Start in the United States. In Quechua—the most common indigenous Peruvian language—wawa means “baby” and wasi means “home.” Put them together and you get wawawasi: a “home for children.”

In Peru, El Wawawasi really is a home. Caregivers are called madre cuidadoras or “mother-caretakers,” and are trained in healthcare (like giving vaccines), early childhood care, and nutrition. At the Folklife Festival, the Wawawasi tent is modeled after this concept—creating a comfortable space for families to learn and grow.

To connect the rest of the Festival with the Wawawasi, many of the Peruvian participants will offer family-friendly performances with participatory activities. On any given day, you can learn steps from a variety of Peruvian dance traditions: the intricate Marinera dance, the masked contradanza from the Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen, the twirling danza Sarawja, or the foot-stomping atajo de negritos.

Chicha artist Monky shows his nephew how to sikscreen brightly-colored posters. Photo by Joshua Eli Cogan, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Chicha artist Monky shows his nephew how to sikscreen brightly-colored posters. Photo by Joshua Eli Cogan, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Gather around a depiction of the Wanamey Tree of Life to hear a creation story from a member of the Wachiperi community, and try on some pieces of their traditional bark clothing. Weave on a loom used to make traditional textiles from Cusco, or create your own version of chicha posters like Lima’s urban artists. Put your language skills to the test by learning phrases in Quechua or Kukama, two of Peru’s many native languages.

Children can learn about Peruvian culture through puzzles, matching, and memory games. They will also be able to make and take home crafts inspired by Peruvian art in four “Getting to Know Peru” activities. Make a bracelet with the same twisting technique used to build the Q’eswachaka Bridge, and create paper filigree that mimics the style of tin-smithing artisans in Ayacucho. Help decorate a paper llama or alpaca, or create textile patterns inspired by nature.

Llamas and alpacas dressed up in colorful earrings. Photo courtesy of PROMPERÚ
Llamas and alpacas dressed up in colorful earrings. Photo courtesy of PROMPERÚ

There are so many activities at the Wawawasi that you might be tempted to stay there all day, but don’t forget to grab a Scavenger Hunt sheet and explore the rest of the Festival! Answer a question in each area to win a small prize. Then visit the Festival Marketplace (located inside the nearby National Museum of the American Indian) to buy a copy of the kids magazine FACES. The July/August issue is all about Peru and features many of the artists and traditions you will see at the Festival.

Check the Festival Guide or the online schedule pages for a complete list of Wawawasi Kids Corner activities. Enjoy!

Erica Martin and Tiffany Wilt are the lead volunteers for the Wawawasi Kids Corner. Sarika Ramaswamy is a Folklife Festival intern.

The Kennewick Man Finally Freed to Share His Secrets

Smithsonian Magazine

In the summer of 1996, two college students in Kennewick, Washington, stumbled on a human skull while wading in the shallows along the Columbia River. They called the police. The police brought in the Benton County coroner, Floyd Johnson, who was puzzled by the skull, and he in turn contacted James Chatters, a local archaeologist. Chatters and the coroner returned to the site and, in the dying light of evening, plucked almost an entire skeleton from the mud and sand. They carried the bones back to Chatters’ lab and spread them out on a table.

The skull, while clearly old, did not look Native American. At first glance, Chatters thought it might belong to an early pioneer or trapper. But the teeth were cavity-free (signaling a diet low in sugar and starch) and worn down to the roots—a combination characteristic of prehistoric teeth. Chatters then noted something embedded in the hipbone. It proved to be a stone spearpoint, which seemed to clinch that the remains were prehistoric. He sent a bone sample off for carbon dating. The results: It was more than 9,000 years old.

Thus began the saga of Kennewick Man, one of the oldest skeletons ever found in the Americas and an object of deep fascination from the moment it was discovered. It is among the most contested set of remains on the continents as well. Now, though, after two decades, the dappled, pale brown bones are at last about to come into sharp focus, thanks to a long-awaited, monumental scientific publication next month co-edited by the physical anthropologist Douglas Owsley, of the Smithsonian Institution. No fewer than 48 authors and another 17 researchers, photographers and editors contributed to the 680-page Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton (Texas A&M University Press), the most complete analysis of a Paleo-American skeleton ever done.

The book recounts the history of discovery, presents a complete inventory of the bones and explores every angle of what they may reveal. Three chapters are devoted to the teeth alone, and another to green stains thought to be left by algae. Together, the findings illuminate this mysterious man’s life and support an astounding new theory of the peopling of the Americas. If it weren’t for a harrowing round of panicky last-minute maneuvering worthy of a legal thriller, the remains might have been buried and lost to science forever.

Image by Grant Delin. The projecting face and nasal architecture (skull cast) are seen among Polynesians. (original image)

Image by (original image)

Image by Chip Clark / NMNH, SI. Though buried far inland, Kennewick Man ate marine life and drank glacial meltwater. Analysis of just one of his worn teeth might pin down his childhood home. (original image)

Image by Grant Delin. “I’ve looked at thousands of skeletons,” says Douglas Owsley. “They were people, and there were people whocared about them.” (original image)

Image by Grant Delin. Some 20 years before his death, Kennewick Man took a spearpoint to the hip that remains lodged in his bone. (original image)

Image by Chip Clark / NMNH, SI. Some 20 years before his death, Kennewick Man took a spearpoint to the hip that remains lodged in his bone. (original image)

Image by Chip Clark / NMNH, SI. Other injuries include skull fractures, perhaps from rock throwing, and broken ribs that never fully healed. (original image)

Image by Grant Delin. Other injuries include skull fractures, perhaps from rock throwing, and broken ribs that never fully healed. (original image)

Image by Photograph by Thomas W. Stafford / Illustration from Douglas Owsley / NMNH, SI. Before eroding out, Kennewick Man lay faceup with his head upstream. Scientists concluded from his position (right, at the discovery site but deeper into the bank) that his body was buried intentionally. (original image)

Image by Donald E. Hurlbert / NMNH, SI. Amanda Danning, Sculptor, from Bay City, Texas doing a facial reconstruction of Kennewick Man September 30, 2009 (original image)

Image by Chip Clark / NMNH, SI. Kennewick Man’s bones are arranged in anatomical position by NMNH’s Kari Bruwelheide. This was shot during one of the rare scientific study sessions allowed with the Kennwick skeleton. (original image)

Image by Chip Clark / NMNH, SI. Mandible fragment taken during the third scientific study session at the Burke Museum in Seattle, Washington State, and during follow-up studio photography of the stereolithographic cast skull and points at the Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. (original image)

Image by Chip Clark / NMNH, SI. Rib fragments (original image)

Image by Grant Delin. Bust depicting Kennewick man. (original image)

Image by Grant Delin. Bust depicting Kennewick man. (original image)

Image by Grant Delin. Dr. Douglas Owsley in his office workspace at NMNH May 29, 2014. Various cases he is examining are spread out on the work space. (original image)

Image by Chip Clark / NMNH, SI. (original image)

Image by Chip Clark / NMNH, SI. Rib fragments showing details of the ends. (original image)

Image by Chip Clark / NMNH, SI. Kennewick Man pelvis. (original image)

Image by Chip Clark / NMNH, SI. Kennewick Man’s bones are arranged in anatomical position by NMNH’s Kari Bruwelheide. (original image)

The storm of controversy erupted when the Army Corps of Engineers, which managed the land where the bones had been found, learned of the radiocarbon date. The corps immediately claimed authority—officials there would make all decisions related to handling and access—and demanded that all scientific study cease. Floyd Johnson protested, saying that as county coroner he believed he had legal jurisdiction. The dispute escalated, and the bones were sealed in an evidence locker at the sheriff’s office pending a resolution.

“At that point,” Chatters recalled to me in a recent interview, “I knew trouble was coming.” It was then that he called Owsley, a curator at the National Museum of Natural History and a legend in the community of physical anthropologists. He has examined well over 10,000 sets of human remains during his long career. He had helped identify human remains for the CIA, the FBI, the State Department and various police departments, and he had worked on mass graves in Croatia and elsewhere. He helped reassemble and identify the dismembered and burned bodies from the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. Later, he did the same with the Pentagon victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack. Owsley is also a specialist in ancient American remains.

“You can count on your fingers the number of ancient, well-preserved skeletons there are” in North America, he told me, remembering his excitement at first hearing from Chatters. Owsley and Dennis Stanford, at that time chairman of the Smithsonian’s anthropology department, decided to pull together a team to study the bones. But corps attorneys showed that federal law did, in fact, give them jurisdiction over the remains. So the corps seized the bones and locked them up at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, often called Battelle for the organization that operates the lab.

Map of Kennewick (Jamie Simon )

At the same time, a coalition of Columbia River Basin Indian tribes and bands claimed the skeleton under a 1990 law known as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA. The tribes demanded the bones for reburial. “Scientists have dug up and studied Native Americans for decades,” a spokesman for the Umatilla tribe, Armand Minthorn, wrote in 1996. “We view this practice as desecration of the body and a violation of our most deeply-held religious beliefs.” The remains, the tribe said, were those of a direct tribal ancestor. “From our oral histories, we know that our people have been part of this land since the beginning of time. We do not believe that our people migrated here from another continent, as the scientists do.” The coalition announced that as soon as the corps turned the skeleton over to them, they would bury it in a secret location where it would never be available to science. The corps made it clear that, after a monthlong public comment period, the tribal coalition would receive the bones.

The tribes had good reason to be sensitive. The early history of museum collecting of Native American remains is replete with horror stories. In the 19th century, anthropologists and collectors looted fresh Native American graves and burial platforms, dug up corpses and even decapitated dead Indians lying on the field of battle and shipped the heads to Washington for study. Until NAGPRA, museums were filled with American Indian remains acquired without regard for the feelings and religious beliefs of native people. NAGPRA was passed to redress this history and allow tribes to reclaim their ancestors’ remains and some artifacts. The Smithsonian, under the National Museum of the American Indian Act, and other museums under NAGPRA, have returned (and continue to return) many thousands of remains to tribes. This is being done with the crucial help of anthropologists and archaeologists—including Owsley, who has been instrumental in repatriating remains from the Smithsonian’s collection. But in the case of Kennewick, Owsley argued, there was no evidence of a relationship with any existing tribes. The skeleton lacked physical features characteristic of Native Americans.

In the weeks after the Army engineers announced they would return Kennewick Man to the tribes, Owsley went to work. “I called and others called the corps. They would never return a phone call. I kept expressing an interest in the skeleton to study it—at our expense. All we needed was an afternoon.” Others contacted the corps, including members of Congress, saying the remains should be studied, if only briefly, before reburial. This was what NAGPRA in fact required: The remains had to be studied to determine affiliation. If the bones showed no affiliation with a present-day tribe, NAGPRA didn’t apply.

But the corps indicated it had made up its mind. Owsley began telephoning his colleagues. “I think they’re going to rebury this,” he said, “and if that happens, there’s no going back. It’s gone."

Image by National Anthropological Archives . Photos of the Ainu people of Japan, thought to be among his closest living relatives, were inspiration for Kennewick Man’s reconstruction. (original image)

Image by National Anthropological Archives . Photos of the Ainu people of Japan, thought to be among his closest living relatives, were inspiration for Kennewick Man’s reconstruction. (original image)

Image by Dr. George Monatandon / Au Pays des Ainou . Photos of the Ainu people of Japan, thought to be among his closest living relatives, were inspiration for Kennewick Man’s reconstruction. (original image)

Image by Donald E. Hurlbert / NMNH, SI. After muscle and tissue were sculpted, added creases aged the eyes. (original image)

So Owsley and several of his colleagues found an attorney, Alan Schneider. Schneider contacted the corps and was also rebuffed. Owsley suggested they file a lawsuit and get an injunction. Schneider warned him: “If you’re going to sue the government, you better be in it for the long haul.”

Owsley assembled a group of eight plaintiffs, prominent physical anthropologists and archaeologists connected to leading universities and museums. But no institution wanted anything to do with the lawsuit, which promised to attract negative attention and be hugely expensive. They would have to litigate as private citizens. “These were people,” Schneider said to me later, “who had to be strong enough to stand the heat, knowing that efforts might be made to destroy their careers. And efforts were made.”

When Owsley told his wife, Susan, that he was going to sue the government of the United States, her first response was: “Are we going to lose our home?” He said he didn’t know. “I just felt,” Owsley told me in a recent interview, “this was one of those extremely rare and important discoveries that come once in a lifetime. If we lost it”—he paused. “Unthinkable.”

Working like mad, Schneider and litigating partner Paula Barran filed a lawsuit. With literally hours to go, a judge ordered the corps to hold the bones until the case was resolved.

When word got out that the eight scientists had sued the government, criticism poured in, even from colleagues. The head of the Society for American Archaeology tried to get them to drop the lawsuit. Some felt it would interfere with the relationships they had built with Native American tribes. But the biggest threat came from the Justice Department itself. Its lawyers contacted the Smithsonian Institution warning that Owsley and Stanford might be violating “criminal conflict of interest statutes which prohibit employees of the United States” from making claims against the government.

“I operate on a philosophy,” Owsley told me, “that if they don’t like it, I’m sorry: I’m going to do what I believe in.” He had wrestled in high school and, even though he often lost, he earned the nickname “Scrapper” because he never quit. Stanford, a husky man with a full beard and suspenders, had roped in rodeos in New Mexico and put himself through graduate school by farming alfalfa. They were no pushovers. “The Justice Department squeezed us really, really hard,” Owsley recalled. But both anthropologists refused to withdraw, and the director of the National Museum of Natural History at the time, Robert W. Fri, strongly supported them even over the objections of the Smithsonian’s general counsel. The Justice Department backed off.

Owsley and his group were eventually forced to litigate not just against the corps, but also the Department of the Army, the Department of the Interior and a number of individual government officials. As scientists on modest salaries, they could not begin to afford the astronomical legal bills. Schneider and Barran agreed to work for free, with the faint hope that they might, someday, recover their fees. In order to do that they would have to win the case and prove the government had acted in “bad faith”—a nearly impossible hurdle. The lawsuit dragged on for years. “We never expected them to fight so hard,” Owsley says. Schneider says he once counted 93 government attorneys directly involved in the case or cc’ed on documents.

Meanwhile, the skeleton, which was being held in trust by the corps, first at Battelle and later at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington in Seattle, was badly mishandled and stored in “substandard, unsafe conditions,” according to the scientists. In the storage area where the bones were (and are) being kept at the Burke Museum, records show there have been wide swings in temperature and humidity that, the scientists say, have damaged the specimen. When Smithsonian asked about the scientists’ concerns, the corps disputed that the environment is unstable, pointing out that expert conservators and museum personnel say that “gradual changes are to be expected through the seasons and do not adversely affect the collection.”

Somewhere in the move to Battelle, large portions of both femurs disappeared. The FBI launched an investigation, focusing on James Chatters and Floyd Johnson. It even went so far as to give Johnson a lie detector test; after several hours of accusatory questioning, Johnson, disgusted, pulled off the wires and walked out. Years later, the femur bones were found in the county coroner’s office. The mystery of how they got there has never been solved.

The scientists asked the corps for permission to examine the stratigraphy of the site where the skeleton had been found and to look for grave goods. Even as Congress was readying a bill to require the corps to preserve the site, the corps dumped a million pounds of rock and fill over the area for erosion control, ending any chance of research.

I asked Schneider why the corps so adamantly resisted the scientists. He speculated that the corps was involved in tense negotiations with the tribes over a number of thorny issues, including salmon fishing rights along the Columbia River, the tribes’ demand that the corps remove dams and the ongoing, hundred-billion-dollar cleanup of the vastly polluted Hanford nuclear site. Schneider says that a corps archaeologist told him “they weren’t going to let a bag of old bones get in the way of resolving other issues with the tribes.”

Asked about its actions in the Kennewick Man case, the corps told Smithsonian: “The United States acted in accordance with its interpretation of NAGPRA and its concerns about the safety and security of the fragile, ancient human remains.”

Ultimately, the scientists won the lawsuit. The court ruled in 2002 that the bones were not related to any living tribe: thus NAGPRA did not apply. The judge ordered the corps to make the specimen available to the plaintiffs for study. The government appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which in 2004 again ruled resoundingly in favor of the scientists, writing:

because Kennewick Man’s remains are so old and the information about his era is so limited, the record does not permit the Secretary [of the Interior] to conclude reasonably that Kennewick Man shares special and significant genetic or cultural features with presently existing indigenous tribes, people, or cultures.

During the trial, the presiding magistrate judge, John Jelderks, had noted for the record that the corps on multiple occasions misled or deceived the court. He found that the government had indeed acted in “bad faith” and awarded attorney’s fees of $2,379,000 to Schneider and his team.

“At the bare minimum,” Schneider told me, “this lawsuit cost the taxpayers $5 million.”

Owsley and the collaborating scientists presented a plan of study to the corps, which was approved after several years. And so, almost ten years after the skeleton was found, the scientists were given 16 days to examine it. They did so in July of 2005 and February of 2006.

From these studies, presented in superabundant detail in the new book, we now have an idea who Kennewick Man was, how he lived, what he did and where he traveled. We know how he was buried and then came to light. Kennewick Man, Owsley believes, belongs to an ancient population of seafarers who were America’s original settlers. They did not look like Native Americans. The few remains we have of these early people show they had longer, narrower skulls with smaller faces. These mysterious people have long since disappeared.


To get to Owsley’s office at the National Museum of Natural History, you must negotiate a warren of narrow corridors illuminated by fluorescent strip lighting and lined with specimen cases. When his door opens, you are greeted by Kennewick Man. The reconstruction of his head is striking—rugged, handsome and weather-beaten, with long hair and a thick beard. A small scar puckers his left forehead. His determined gaze is powerful enough to stop you as you enter. This is a man with a history.

Kennewick Man is surrounded on all sides by tables laid out with human skeletons. Some are articulated on padded counters, while others rest in metal trays, the bones arranged as precisely as surgeon’s tools before an operation. These bones represent the forensic cases Owsley is currently working on.

“This is a woman,” he said, pointing to the skeleton to the left of Kennewick Man. “She’s young. She was a suicide, not found for a long time.” He gestured to the right. “And this is a homicide. I know there was physical violence. She has a fractured nose, indicating a blow to the face. The detective working the case thinks that if we can get a positive ID, the guy they have will talk. And we have a positive ID.” A third skeleton belonged to a man killed while riding an ATV, his body not found for six months. Owsley was able to assure the man’s relatives that he died instantly and didn’t suffer. “In doing this work,” he said, “I hope to speak for the person who can no longer speak.”

Owsley is a robust man, of medium height, 63 years old, graying hair, glasses; curiously, he has the same purposeful look in his eyes as Kennewick Man. He is not into chitchat. He grew up in Lusk, Wyoming, and he still radiates a frontier sense of determination; he is the kind of person who will not respond well to being told what he can’t do. He met Susan on the playground when he was 7 years old and remains happily married. He lives in the country, on a farm where he grows berries, has an orchard and raises bees. He freely admits he is “obsessive” and “will work like a dog” until he finishes a project. “I thought this was normal,” he said, “until it was pointed out to me it wasn’t.” I asked if he was stubborn, as evidenced by the lawsuit, but he countered: “I would say I’m driven—by curiosity.” He added, “Sometimes you come to a skeleton that wants to talk to you, that whispers to you, I want to tell my story. And that was Kennewick Man.”

A vast amount of data was collected in the 16 days Owsley and colleagues spent with the bones. Twenty-two scientists scrutinized the almost 300 bones and fragments. Led by Kari Bruwelheide, a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian, they first reassembled the fragile skeleton so they could see it as a whole. They built a shallow box, added a layer of fine sand, and covered that with black velvet; then Bruwelheide laid out the skeleton, bone by bone, shaping the sand underneath to cradle each piece. Now the researchers could address such questions as Kennewick Man’s age, height, weight, body build, general health and fitness, and injuries. They could also tell whether he was deliberately buried, and if so, the position of his body in the grave.

Next the skeleton was taken apart, and certain key bones studied intensively. The limb bones and ribs were CT-scanned at the University of Washington Medical Center. These scans used far more radiation than would be safe for living tissue, and as a result they produced detailed, three-dimensional images that allowed the bones to be digitally sliced up any which way. With additional CT scans, the team members built resin models of the skull and other important bones. They made a replica from a scan of the spearpoint in the hip.

As work progressed, a portrait of Kennewick Man emerged. He does not belong to any living human population. Who, then, are his closest living relatives? Judging from the shape of his skull and bones, his closest living relatives appear to be the Moriori people of the Chatham Islands, a remote archipelago 420 miles southeast of New Zealand, as well as the mysterious Ainu people of Japan.

“Just think of Polynesians,” said Owsley.

Not that Kennewick Man himself was Polynesian. This is not Kon-Tiki in reverse; humans had not reached the Pacific Islands in his time period. Rather, he was descended from the same group of people who would later spread out over the Pacific and give rise to modern-day Polynesians. These people were maritime hunter-gatherers of the north Pacific coast; among them were the ancient Jōmon, the original inhabitants of the Japanese Islands. The present-day Ainu people of Japan are thought to be descendants of the Jōmon. Nineteenth-century photographs of the Ainu show individuals with light skin, heavy beards and sometimes light-colored eyes.

Jōmon culture first arose in Japan at least 12,000 years ago and perhaps as early as 16,000 years ago, when the landmasses were still connected to the mainland. These seafarers built boats out of sewn planks of wood. Outstanding mariners and deep-water fishermen, they were among the first people to make fired pottery.

The discovery of Kennewick Man adds a major piece of evidence to an alternative view of the peopling of North America. It, along with other evidence, suggests that the Jōmon or related peoples were the original settlers of the New World. If correct, the conclusion upends the traditional view that the first Americans came through central Asia and walked across the Bering Land Bridge and down through an ice-free corridor into North America.

Sometime around 15,000 years ago, the new theory goes, coastal Asian groups began working their way along the shoreline of ancient Beringia—the sea was much lower then—from Japan and Kamchatka Peninsula to Alaska and beyond. This is not as crazy a journey as it sounds. As long as the voyagers were hugging the coast, they would have plenty of fresh water and food. Cold-climate coasts furnish a variety of animals, from seals and birds to fish and shellfish, as well as driftwood, to make fires. The thousands of islands and their inlets would have provided security and shelter. To show that such a sea journey was possible, in 1999 and 2000 an American named Jon Turk paddled a kayak from Japan to Alaska following the route of the presumed Jōmon migration. Anthropologists have nicknamed this route the “Kelp Highway.”

“I believe these Asian coastal migrations were the first,” said Owsley. “Then you’ve got a later wave of the people who give rise to Indians as we know them today.”

What became of those pioneers, Kennewick Man’s ancestors and companions? They were genetically swamped by much larger—and later—waves of travelers from Asia and disappeared as a physically distinct people, Owsley says. These later waves may have interbred with the first settlers, diluting their genetic legacy. A trace of their DNA still can be detected in some Native American groups, though the signal is too weak to label the Native Americans “descendants.”

Whether this new account of the peopling of North America will stand up as more evidence comes in is not yet known. The bones of a 13,000-year-old teenage girl recently discovered in an underwater cave in Mexico, for example, are adding to the discussion. James Chatters, the first archaeologist to study Kennewick and a participant in the full analysis, reported earlier this year, along with colleagues, that the girl’s skull appears to have features in common with that of Kennewick Man and other Paleo-Americans, but she also possesses specific DNA signatures suggesting she shares female ancestry with Native Americans.

Kennewick Man may still hold a key. The first effort to extract DNA from fragments of his bone failed, and the corps so far hasn’t allowed a better sample to be taken. A second effort to plumb the old fragments is underway at a laboratory in Denmark.


There’s a wonderful term used by anthropologists: “osteobiography,” the “biography of the bones.” Kennewick Man’s osteobiography tells a tale of an eventful life, which a newer radiocarbon analysis puts at having taken place 8,900 to 9,000 years ago. He was a stocky, muscular man about 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighing about 160 pounds. He was right-handed. His age at death was around 40.

Anthropologists can tell from looking at bones what muscles a person used most, because muscle attachments leave marks in the bones: The more stressed the muscle, the more pronounced the mark. For example, Kennewick Man’s right arm and shoulder look a lot like a baseball pitcher’s. He spent a lot of time throwing something with his right hand, elbow bent—no doubt a spear. Kennewick Man once threw so hard, Owsley says, he fractured his glenoid rim—the socket of his shoulder joint. This is the kind of injury that puts a baseball pitcher out of action, and it would have made throwing painful. His left leg was stronger than his right, also a characteristic of right-handed pitchers, who arrest their forward momentum with their left leg. His hands and forearms indicate he often pinched his fingers and thumb together while tightly gripping a small object; presumably, then, he knapped his own spearpoints.

Kennewick Man spent a lot of time holding something in front of him while forcibly raising and lowering it; the researchers theorize he was hurling a spear downward into the water, as seal hunters do. His leg bones suggest he often waded in shallow rapids, and he had bone growths consistent with “surfer’s ear,” caused by frequent immersion in cold water. His knee joints suggest he often squatted on his heels. I like to think he might have been a storyteller, enthralling his audience with tales of far-flung travels.

Many years before Kennewick Man’s death, a heavy blow to his chest broke six ribs. Because he used his right hand to throw spears, five broken ribs on his right side never knitted together. This man was one tough dude.

The scientists also found two small depression fractures on his cranium, one on his forehead and the other farther back. These dents occur on about half of all ancient American skulls; what caused them is a mystery. They may have come from fights involving rock throwing, or possibly accidents involving the whirling of a bola. This ancient weapon consisted of two or more stones connected by a cord, which were whirled above the head and thrown at birds to entangle them. If you don’t swing a bola just right, the stones can whip around and smack you. Perhaps a youthful Kennewick Man learned how to toss a bola the hard way.

The most intriguing injury is the spearpoint buried in his hip. He was lucky: The spear, apparently thrown from a distance, barely missed the abdominal cavity, which would have caused a fatal wound. It struck him at a downward arc of 29 degrees. Given the bone growth around the embedded point, the injury occurred when he was between 15 and 20 years old, and he probably would not have survived if he had been left alone; the researchers conclude that Kennewick Man must have been with people who cared about him enough to feed and nurse him back to health. The injury healed well and any limp disappeared over time, as evidenced by the symmetry of his gluteal muscle attachments. There’s undoubtedly a rich story behind that injury. It might have been a hunting accident or a teenage game of chicken gone awry. It might have happened in a fight, attack or murder attempt.

Much to the scientists’ dismay, the corps would not allow the stone to be analyzed, which might reveal where it was quarried. “If we knew where that stone came from,” said Stanford, the Smithsonian anthropologist, “we’d have a pretty good idea of where that guy was when he was a young man.” A CT scan revealed that the point was about two inches long, three-quarters of an inch wide and about a quarter-inch thick, with serrated edges. In his analysis, Stanford wrote that while he thought Kennewick Man had probably received the injury in America, “an Asian origin of the stone is possible.”

The food we eat and the water we drink leave a chemical signature locked into our bones, in the form of different atomic variations of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. By identifying them, scientists can tell what a person was eating and drinking while the bone was forming. Kennewick Man’s bones were perplexing. Even though his grave lies 300 miles inland from the sea, he ate none of the animals that abounded in the area. On the contrary, for the last 20 or so years of his life he seems to have lived almost exclusively on a diet of marine animals, such as seals, sea lions and fish. Equally baffling was the water he drank: It was cold, glacial meltwater from a high altitude. Nine thousand years ago, the closest marine coastal environment where one could find glacial meltwater of this type was Alaska. The conclusion: Kennewick Man was a traveler from the far north. Perhaps he traded fine knapping stones over hundreds of miles.

Although he came from distant lands, he was not an unwelcome visitor. He appears to have died among people who treated his remains with care and respect. While the researchers say they don’t know how he died—yet—Owsley did determine that he was deliberately buried in an extended, prone position, faceup, the head slightly higher than the feet, with the chin pressed on the chest, in a grave that was about two and a half feet deep. Owsley deduced this information partly by mapping the distribution of carbonate crust on the bones, using a magnifying lens. Such a crust is heavier on the underside of buried bones, betraying which surfaces were down and which up. The bones showed no sign of scavenging or gnawing and were deliberately buried beneath the topsoil zone. From analyzing algae deposits and water-wear marks, the team determined which bones were washed out of the embankment first and which fell out last. Kennewick Man’s body had been buried with his left side toward the river and his head upstream.


The most poignant outcome? The researchers brought Kennewick Man’s features back to life. This process is nothing like the computerized restoration seen in the television show Bones. To turn a skull into a face is a time-consuming, handcrafted procedure, a marriage of science and art. Skeletal anatomists, modelmakers, forensic and figurative sculptors, a photographic researcher and a painter toiled many months to do it.

The first stage involved plotting dozens of points on a cast of the skull and marking the depth of tissue at those points. (Forensic anatomists had collected tissue-depth data over the years, first by pushing pins into the faces of cadavers, and later by using ultrasound and CT scans.) With the points gridded out, a forensic sculptor layered clay on the skull to the proper depths.

The naked clay head was then taken to StudioEIS in Brooklyn, which specializes in reconstructions for museums. There, sculptors aged his face, adding wrinkles and a touch of weathering, and put in the scar from the forehead injury. Using historic photographs of Ainu and Polynesians as a reference, they sculpted the fine, soft-tissue details of the lips, nose and eyes, and gave him a facial expression—a resolute, purposeful gaze consistent with his osteobiography as a hunter, fisherman and long-distance traveler. They added a beard like those commonly found among the Ainu. As for skin tone, a warm brown was chosen, to account for his natural color deepened by the harsh effects of a life lived outdoors. To prevent too much artistic license from creeping into the reconstruction, every stage of the work was reviewed and critiqued by physical anthropologists.

“I look at him every day,” Owsley said to me. “I’ve spent ten years with this man trying to better understand him. He’s an ambassador from that ancient time period. And man, did he have a story.”

Today, the bones remain in storage at the Burke Museum, and the tribes continue to believe that Kennewick Man is their ancestor. They want the remains back for reburial. The corps, which still controls the skeleton, denied Owsley’s request to conduct numerous tests, including a histological examination of thin, stained sections of bone to help fix Kennewick Man’s age. Chemical analyses on a lone tooth would enable the scientists to narrow the search for his homeland by identifying what he ate and drank as a child. A tooth would also be a good source of DNA. Biomolecular science is advancing so rapidly that within five to ten years it may be possible to know what diseases Kennewick Man suffered from and what caused his death.

Today’s scientists still have questions for this skeleton, and future scientists will no doubt have new ones. Kennewick Man has more to tell.

The City Nobel Laureate Joseph Brodsky Called Paradise

Smithsonian Magazine

At the time Joseph Brodsky and I met and walked the streets of Venice until dawn, his passion for the city was still young. The dissident-poet had been expelled from his Russian homeland just six years earlier, in 1972. It would be a decade before he would write a collection of mystical meditations on Venice called Watermark, and nearly two decades before the Nobel laureate would be interred in the watery city he once called “my version of Paradise.”

But on this night, Brodsky had just given a reading in a ramshackle movie theater to a group of fellow émigrés and Italian poetry lovers. More than 20 people followed him to a down-at-the-heels trattoria next door where small tables were pushed together to form a long rectangle for him and his admirers.

He and I had met only briefly the previous day, so I was surprised when he invited me to take a seat across from him. My face, he said, reminded him of a friend from his native Leningrad—now again called St. Petersburg—a violinist whose name meant nothing to me. But Brodsky pressed on: “Are you sure that you are not related to him? His face looks very much like yours. He is a very good man and talented too. I miss him.” I replied that I wouldn’t like to disown a relative, particularly a good man and a violinist—perhaps we were cousins.

“That’s the spirit,” Brodsky said. “We are all cousins. And you are indeed my friend’s cousin.”

Alumni of concentration and forced-labor camps are often burdened by memories of hunger, beatings and murders. But when someone at the dinner table asked Brodsky what he recalled from his 18 months of incarceration in the Arctic, he cited the tormented shrubs of the tundra and the interplay of the light refracted by the iceand the pale sun. He also reminisced about “the morbidity of Stalin’s jovial smile” and “the funereal pomp of Moscow’s government edifices.”

There was no hunger this night. We ate mounds of pasta, washed down with red wine. Brodsky eventually signaled to the waiter and paid for his meal in cash. He got up and asked me in English if I wanted to join him fora stroll. “Gladly,” I replied.

“Do you think you can stay awake until dawn?” Brodsky asked me. “You must see the Doges’ Palace in the first light of dawn.”

He resumed talking as soon as we stepped outside, in a language both poetic and abstruse, sometimes speaking in Russian and quickly translating into English. “Venice is eternity itself,” he said, to which I replied that eternity involves a theft of time, which is the work of gods but not mortals. 

“Whether by theft or by artistry or by conquest, when it comes to time, Venetians are the world’s greatest experts,” Brodsky parried. “They bested time like no one else.” He again insisted that I summon the strength to walk until the first sunlight painted Piazza San Marco pink. “You must not miss that miracle,” he said. 

Although he didn’t know Italian, he felt at home in Venice—and more or less so in Ann Arbor, Michigan; South Hadley, Massachusetts; and New York City. And he frowned on fellow émigrés who didn’t see the appeal of such places of exile. He did not like to hear them complain, after deploring the oppression and confinement of the Soviet system, that freedom offers too many possibilities, many of them disappointing. 

He made a face recalling that in the trattoria several of the émigrés quoted Dante, banished from his native Florence: “How salty is the taste of another’s bread, and how hard a path it is to go up and down another’s stairs.” In Russian, Brodsky added, that line sounds better than in English. He also noted, somewhat vaguely, that time is the key to all things.

Joseph Brodsky in 1972 (© Bettmann/CORBIS)

“Time can be an enemy or a friend,” he said, quickly returning to the subject of the city. He argued that “time is water and the Venetians conquered both by building a city on water, and framed time with their canals. Or tamed time. Or fenced it in. Or caged it.” The city’s engineers and architects were “magicians” and “the wisest of men who figured out how to subdue the sea in order to subdue time.”

We walked through the sleeping town, rarely seeing another passerby. Brodsky was in a good mood except when we passed a church closed down for the night. Then he grumbled like an alcoholic who could not find a tavern open for business.

He declared himself hypnotized by the swirling colors of the marble facades and the stone pavers that imitated water, and he emitted a deep sigh every time we looked down from a bridge. “We pass from one realm of water to another,” he said, and wondered aloud if a Venetian would someday design a bridge that would lead to a star.

For most of our stroll, the poet—who would be awarded the 1987 Nobel Prize in literature—was onstage, delivering monologues. But I had the impression that he was looking for a challenge rather than an endorsement. Some of his comments sounded like a rough draft for a poem or an essay. He repeated himself, revised his statements and often disagreed with what he’d said a few minutes earlier. As a journalist, I noted a common trait: He was a scavenger of images, phrases and ideas. And he poured out words as effortlessly as a fish swims.

Several times in the course of our walk Brodsky called the water “erotic.” After his second or third use of that word, I interrupted: What’s erotic about water?

Brodsky paused, searching for an explanation. His comment did not involve sex, he said, before changing the subject.

In his long essay on Venice titled Watermark, dated 1989 and published as a slim hardcover in 1992, Brodsky expounded further. Gliding in a gondola through the city at night, he found “something distinctly erotic in the noiseless and traceless passage of its lithe body upon the water—much like sliding your palm down the smooth skin of your beloved.” Seeming to pick up where he’d left off more than a decade earlier, he added that he meant “an eroticism not of genders but of elements, a perfect match of their equally lacquered surfaces.” Another detour followed: “The sensation was neutral, almost incestuous, as though you were present as a brother caressed his sister, or vice versa.”

The next image in Watermark was similarly daring. The gondola took him to the Madonna dell’Orto church, closed for the night, just as other churches were when he and I took our stroll. Brodsky was disappointed that he could not visit. He wrote that he wanted to “steal a glance” of Bellini’s famous painting Madonna and Child (stolen in 1993) which offered a detail important for his argument, “an inch-wide interval that separates her left palm from the Child’s sole. That inch—ah, much less!—is what separates love from eroticism. Or perhaps that’s the ultimate in eroticism.”

In 1978, he posed a question to me: What happens to our reflections in the water? He did not have an answer then. In Watermark, he did, asserting that water—whether in the Adriatic or the Atlantic—“stores our reflections for when we are long gone.”

Colors reflected on a canal in Venice resemble an abstract painting. In his book Watermark, Brodsky wrote that water "stores our reflections for when we are long gone." (Chiara Goia)

Starting in 1989, Brodsky flew to Venice for nearly every one of his year-end breaks from teaching literature at American colleges. He stayed in cheap hotels or on rare occasions took advantage of a friend’s offer of an empty apartment. But he didn’t bother to add Italian to his repertoire of languages, and wasn’t really interested in assimilating. He vowed never to visit in summer, preferring instead the frigid dampness of Venice in winter. He identified himself as a “Northerner” in Venice and seemed to enjoy feeling like an outsider. “All his life, Joseph had struggled with the consequences of his identification with a group: as a political dissident, as an émigré, as a Jew, as a Russian, as a male, as a cardiac patient, and so on,” Ludmila Shtern wrote in her 2004 book titled Brodsky: A Personal Memoir. “He fiercely defended his right to be what he was, unlike the other members of all the groups to which he was thought to belong. He defended his right to be himself against those who expected conformity and were often hostile to outsiders.”

Brodsky rejected suggestions that he be buried back home in Russia. And yet, at the time of his death by heart attack in 1996, he had left no clear instructions about exactly where he should be interred. Eventually, his wife, Maria Sozzani, decided in favor of Venice’s San Michele cemetery, where Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Diaghilev, members of an earlier generation of Russian exiles, had been buried.

Again he would be an outsider: As a Jew, Brodsky could not join his compatriots in the Eastern Orthodox section of the cemetery. But a place in the Protestant section was secured. Several dozen people showed up for the ceremony. By then, however, it had been discovered that Brodsky’s close neighbor would be Ezra Pound, whom he disliked as a poet and also because of his work as a fascist propagandist. An alternate burial spot a little farther from Pound was found. Among the many flowers arriving from friends and admirers was a giant, horseshoe-shaped wreath of yellow roses from President Boris Yeltsin. The dancer and choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov, a close friend of Brodsky’s, took the flower arrangement and dismissively tossed it on the grave of Pound, according to one of the mourners and published accounts.

I often recall how in 1978 we waited for the dawn to make its entrance. Brodsky and I, almost the same age, stood at what Dante called “midway in our life’s journey.” We basked in the first rays of the sun rising from the waves of the sea, still as dark as night. The light ricocheted between the waves and the immaculate symmetries of pink marble commissioned by the doges long ago. The poet raised his arms high and bowed, wordlessly saluting the city he had conquered.

Why furs fly here

Excerpt from Watermark by Joseph Brodsky. Copyright © 1992 by Joseph Brodsky.
Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.



~ Joseph Brodsky (author) More about this product
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Anyhow, I would never come here in summer, not even at gunpoint. I take heat very poorly; the unmitigated emissions of hydrocarbons and armpits still worse. The shorts-clad herds, especially those neighboring in German, also get on my nerves, because of the inferiority of their—anyone’s—anatomy against that of the columns, pilasters, and statues; because of what their mobility—and all that fuels it—projects versus marble stasis. I guess I am one of those who prefer choice to flux, and stone is always a choice. No matter how well endowed, in this city one’s body, in my view, should be obscured by cloth, if only because it moves. Clothes are perhaps our only approximation of the choice made by marble.

This is, I suppose, an extreme view, but I am a Northerner. In the abstract season life seems more real than at any other, even in the Adriatic, because in winter everything is harder, more stark. Or else take this as propaganda for Venetian boutiques, which do extremely brisk business in low temperatures. In part, of course, this is so because in winter one needs more clothes just to stay warm, not to mention the atavistic urge to shed one’s pelt. Yet no traveler comes here without a spare sweater, jacket, skirt, shirt, slacks, or blouse, since Venice is the sort of city where both the stranger and the native know in advance that one will be on display.

No, bipeds go ape about shopping and dressing up in Venice for reasons not exactly practical; they do so because the city, as it were, challenges them. We all harbor all sorts of misgivings about the flaws in our appearance, anatomy, about the imperfection of our very features. What one sees in this city at every step, turn, perspective, and dead end worsens one’s complexes and insecurities. That’s why one—a woman especially, but a man also—hits the stores as soon as one arrives here, and with a vengeance. The surrounding beauty is such that one instantly conceives of an incoherent animal desire to match it, to be on a par. This has nothing to do with vanity or with the natural surplus of mirrors here, the main one being the very water. It is simply that the city offers bipeds a notion of visual superiority absent in their natural lairs, in their habitual surroundings. That’s why furs fly here, as do suede, silk, linen, wool, and every other kind of fabric. Upon returning home, folks stare in wonderment at what they’ve acquired, knowing full well that there is no place in their native realm to flaunt these acquisitions without scandalizing the natives.

Read more from the Venice Issue of the Smithsonian Journeys Travel Quarterly.

A reading of primitive and archaic poetry [sound recording] / arranged by Jerome Rothenberg, with David Antin, Jackson Maclow, and Rochelle Owens

Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections
Cover design by Ronald Clyne. Cover illustration: "American Indian Bronze Bird, 15th-16th century?, Ohio".

Notes with text of selections in booklet (8 p.) inserted in original cover.

Read by Jerome Rothenberg, Rochelle Owens, David Antin, and Jackson MacLow.

Related materials may be found in the Moses and Frances Asch Collection, also held by this repository. Related materials may include correspondence between the studio, producers, and/or performers; original cover art designs; original production materials; and business records. Two audiotapes from studio production are also in the collection (FW-ASCH-7RR-3811, FW-ASCH-7RR-1699).

Carved Rattle (Shisha)

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
From card: "See U.S.N.M. [Annual] Report 1888, pl. LIV, fig. 288 [after p.324] .... Niblack. See pl. LIII, [after] p. 324 [for a similar rattle]. Representing the raven. [The card information that follows is from the second/copy of the Anthropology catalogue ledger book entry on this artifact, where it has been added in a different hand from the main ledger page entries:] The lower part of the bird represents the thunder bird. The tail is turned up and carried so as to represent a [blank]. The bird carries on his back a reclining figure which holds its knees. It represents the land otter."

This object is on loan to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, from 2010 through 2022.

Source of the information below: Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska Native Collections: Sharing Knowledge website, by Aron Crowell, entry on this artifact , retrieved 6-24-2012: Rattle This rattle shows Raven carrying the sun in his beak. On Raven's back, a human-Ulala (Cannibal) figure extends its tongue into the beak of a crested bird, symbolizing the exchange of spiritual power between the two beings. A sparrow hawk design covers Raven's belly. Shamans, who used these rattles in healing ceremonies, believed that healing and clairvoyant powers came from birds and animals. Chiefs carried raven rattles during ceremonies of the Haida secret societies. "The humanoid is being transformed when its tongue goes into the frog or bird; the rattle is showing a transformation that is used for healing. This type of rattle was not used for evil; it was used for good. I think we have to really emphasize that this is a healing rattle." - Delores Churchill (Haida), 2005

A Dozen Indigenous Craftsman From Peru Will Weave Grass into a 60-Foot Suspension Bridge in Washington, D.C.

Smithsonian Magazine

As much as maize, or mountains, or llamas, woven bridges defined pre-Columbian Peru. Braided over raging rivers and yawning chasms, these skeins of grass helped connect the spectacular geography of the Inca empire: its plains and high peaks, rainforests and beaches, and—most importantly—its dozens of distinct human cultures.

Now a traditional Inca suspension bridge will connect Washington, DC to the Andean highlands. As part of the Smithsonian’s upcoming Folklife Festival, which focuses on Peru this year, a dozen indigenous craftsmen will weave together grass ropes into a 60-foot span. It will be strung on the National Mall parallel to 4th Street Southwest, between Jefferson and Madison Avenues, where it will hang from several decorated containers (in lieu of vertical cliff faces) and hover—at its ends—16 feet above the ground. It should be able to hold the weight of ten people.

“One of the major achievements of the Andean world was the ability to connect itself,” says Roger Valencia, a festival research coordinator. “How better to symbolize ideological, cultural and stylistic integration than by building a bridge?” The ropes are now ready: the mountain grass was harvested last November, before the Peruvian rainy season, then braided into dozens of bales of rope and finally airlifted from Peru to America.

The finished bridge will become part of the National Museum of the American Indian’s collections. One section will be featured in a new exhibition, “The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire,” while another length of bridge will travel to the museum’s New York City location in time for the fall 2016 opening of the children’s imagiNATIONS Activity Center.

For native Peruvians, traditional bridge-building is an important tie not only to new people and places, but also to the pre-colonial past.

“I learned it from my father and grandfather,” says Victoriano Arisapana, who is believed to be among the last living bridge masters, or chakacamayocs, and who will be supervising the folklife project. “I lead by birthright and as the heir to that knowledge.”

His own son is now learning the techniques from him, the latest in an unbroken bloodline of chakacamayocs that Arisapana says stretches all the way back to the Incas, like a hand-twisted rope.

The Incas—who, at the height of their influence in the 15th century, ruled much of what is now Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia and Chile as well as parts of Colombia—were the only pre-industrial American culture to invent long-span suspension bridges. (Worldwide, a few other peoples, in similarly rugged regions like the Himalayas, developed suspension bridges of their own, but Europeans didn’t have the know-how until several centuries after the Inca empire fell.) The Inca likely rigged up 200 or more of the bridges across gorges and other previously impassable barriers, according to analysis by John Ochsendorf, an architecture scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Though anchored by permanent stone abutments, the bridges themselves had to be replaced roughly every year. Some of them were at least 150 feet long and could reportedly accommodate men marching three abreast.

Ochsendorf believes that Inca bridges may have first been developed in the 13th century. The engineering breakthrough coincided with—and likely enabled—the rise of the empire, which maintained a sprawling road network (the subject of “The Great Inka Road” exhibition) that united previously isolated cultures under Inca rule.

The bridges allowed for many Inca military victories: Inca commanders would send their strongest swimmers across a river so building could begin from both sides. But the exquisite structures apparently so dazzled some neighboring tribes that they became vassals without any bloodshed. “Many tribes are reduced voluntarily to submission by the fame of the bridge,” wrote Garcilaso de la Vega, a 16th-century historian of Inca culture. “The marvelous new work seemed only possible for men come down from heaven.”

The invading Spanish were similarly amazed. The Andean spans were far longer than anything that they’d seen in 16th-century Spain, where the longest bridge stretched only 95 feet. The Incas’ building materials must have seemed almost miraculous. European bridge-building techniques derived from stone-based Roman technology, a far cry from these floating webs of grass. No wonder some of the bravest conquistadors were said to have inched across on hands and knees. 

“The use of lightweight materials in tension to create long-span structures represented a new technology to the Spanish,” Ochsendorf writes, “and it was the exact opposite of the 16th-century European concept of a bridge.”  

Ultimately, the bridges—and indeed, the whole meticulously maintained Inca roadway system—facilitated the Spanish conquest, especially when it became clear that the bridges were strong enough to bear the weight of horses and even cannons.

Despite the Inca bridges’ utility, the Spanish were determined to introduce more familiar technology to the Andes landscape. (Perhaps they weren’t keen to swap out each woven overpass every year or two, as the Inca carefully did.) In the late 1500s, the foreigners embarked on an effort to replace the grass suspension bridge over Peru’s Apurimac River with a European-style stone compression bridge, which depended on a masonry arc. But “to construct a timber arch of sufficient strength to support the weight of stone over the rushing river was simply beyond the capacity of colonial Peru,” writes Ochsendorf. “The bridge construction was abandoned after great loss of life and money.”

The colonists wouldn’t be able to match the Inca technology until the Industrial Revolution two hundred years later, with the invention of steel cable bridges. Some of traditional grass bridges remained in use until the 19th century.

An Inca rope bridge still hangs over a canyon near the highlands community of Huinchiri, Peru, more than a four-hour’s drive from the capital city of Cusco. It is one of just a handful remaining. This is the bridge that Arisapana’s family has overseen for five centuries, and it’s similar to the one to be built on the National Mall.

“The bridge is known worldwide,” Arisapana says. “Twenty people could cross it together carrying a large bundle.”

The old bridge stands near a modern long-span steel bridge, built in the late 1960s and typical of the sort that eventually made the Inca bridges obsolete. Unlike a handmade grass bridge, it doesn’t need to be rewoven every year because of exposure to the elements, with last year’s masterpiece discarded.

Yet Arisapana says his community will build a new grass bridge every June.

“For us, the bridge is the soul and spirit of our Inca (ancestors), that touches and caresses us like the wind,” he says. “If we stop preserving it, it would be like if we die. We wouldn’t be anything. Therefore, we cannot allow our bridge to disappear.”

Raw materials probably varied according to the local flora across the Inca empire, but Arisapana’s community still uses ichu, a spiky mountain grass with blades about two feet long. The grass is harvested just before the wet season, when the fiber is strongest. It is kept damp to prevent breakage and pounded with stone, then braided into ropes of varying thickness. Some of these, for the longest Inca bridges, would have been “as thick as a man’s body,” Garcilaso claims in his history. According to Ochsendorf’s testing, individual cables can support thousands of pounds. Sometimes, to test the ropes on site, workers will see if they can use it to hoist a hog-tied llama, Valencia says.

To do everything by himself would take Arisapana several years, but divided among community members the work takes only a few days.

“We have a general meeting beforehand,” he says, “and I remind (the people) of each person, family and community’s obligations, but they already know what their obligations are.” The bridge-raising becomes a time for celebration. “The young people, the children, and even the grandchildren are very happy…they are the ones that talk and tell the story of how the bridge was built by our Inca ancestors, and then they sing and play.”

The old Inca bridge style differs from more recent versions. In modern suspension bridges, the walkway hangs from cables. In Inca bridges, however, the main cables are the walkway.  These large ropes are called duros and they are made of three grass braids each. The handrails are called makis. Shorter vertical ropes called sirphas join the cables to the railings and the floor of the bridge consists of durable branches.

The bridge on the National Mall will be made of hundreds of ropes of varying thicknesses. The math involved is formidable.

“It’s like calculus,” Valencia says. “It’s knowing how many ropes, and the thickness of the ropes, and just how much they will support. They test the strength of the rope, every piece has to go through quality control, and everything is handmade.”

Even for those fully confident in the math, crossing an Inca rope bridge requires a certain courage. “You feel it swaying in the wind,” Valencia recalls, “and then all of a sudden you get used to it.”

“Our bridge…can call the wind whenever he wants to,” Arisapana says. Traditionally those who cross the dizzying Andes spans first make an offering, of coca, corn, or “sullu,” a llama fetus. “When we don’t comply…or maybe we forget to demonstrate our reverence, (the bridge) punishes us,” he says. “We could suffer an accident. That’s why, to do something on the bridge or to cross on it, first one must pay respects and offer it a plate.”

Even tourists from other countries visiting his remote village know to not to approach the bridge empty-handed. “We ask our visitors to ask permission and give an offering…at least a coca—that way they can cross and come back without any problems.”

Visitors will not be permitted to cross the Folklife Festival’s bridge, but perhaps an offering can’t hurt.

The bridge builders—who are accustomed to receiving curious visitors back home, but who have never traveled to the United States—are pleased that their ancient craft is carrying them to new lands.

“All of them are very excited,” says Valencia. “They are going to a different world, but their own symbol of continuation and tradition, the bridge, is the link that connects us.

“The bridge is an instrument, a textile, a trail, and it’s all about where it takes you.”

The annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival featuring Perú: Pachamama will be held on June 24–28 and July 1–5 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. “The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire” will be on view at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian through June 1, 2018.

Mountain Messengers

Smithsonian Magazine

When a helicopter dropped Stephen Talbot into a remote corner of Alaska's Selawik National Wildlife Refuge late last June, he got straight to work. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife botanist was racing against time to inventory plant species on four peaks in the Hockley Hills. He had a month to complete his fieldwork. How long the plants have is anybody's guess.

As temperatures rise around the world, the fragile, cold-loving alpine plants clinging to peaks from the Alps to the Andes are increasingly at risk. These slow-growing perennials are perfectly adapted to their frigid, wind-blasted summits. Turn up the heat, and plants may slowly creep upslope to cooler elevations, if they exist. Ratchet it up too fast or too far, and the plants will go extinct.

Scientists such as Talbot are scaling peaks and studying plants worldwide to understand the impact of warming on mountain ecosystems. On mountaintops the average temperature , like that of the Arctic and Antarctic, is rising at twice the rate of the global average. That means that high altitude —and high latitude—regions are responding faster and sooner to climate change.

Harald Pauli, a botanist at the University of Vienna in Austria, began studying this phenomenon in the European Alps in the early 90s. Using historical data from as far back as 1835, Pauli and colleagues discovered that warming temperatures have chased plants to higher elevations at a rate of about a foot per year. This finding, along with the lack of detailed information on the distributions of species in alpine environments, led Pauli and others to launch the Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments (GLORIA) in 2001.

The beauty of GLORIA lies in its standardized, low-cost, low-tech process, says Dan Fagre, a U.S. Geological Survey ecologist who is based in Glacier National Park and established the first North American GLORIA study site there in 2003. By collecting specific data, revisiting peaks every five years and plugging the results into a central database, scientists around the world can now compare notes.

New sites are added every year, says Pauli, but the results take time. The seminal site, established by Pauli in 1994 on Mount Schrankogel in the Austrian Alps, is just now generating data. In a paper published in Global Change Biology in January 2007, Pauli and colleagues documented an 11 percent increase in the past 10 years in the number of species present, called species richness. More plants are a good thing, right? Not necessarily, according to Pauli.

It turns out that the new species were alpine grassland plants that moved upslope. At the same time, all of the extreme nival species, those that live scattered among rocks and snow at the highest elevations, declined.

"It was a surprising signal that obviously the ongoing climate warming could be detrimental to very cold-adept species," Pauli says. "[The increased species richness] is the beginning of a process, which will finally, we expect, result in the shrinkage of alpine life zones. As it progresses, species will no longer survive."

Why should the world care about the disappearance of a few wildflowers on remote mountaintops? In Europe, the alpine ecosystem covers only 3 percent of the landmass but is home to almost 20 percent of all native plant species. An enormous number of species would be affected.

"Loss is loss. Forever," Pauli says. "You could preserve the seeds in seed banks, but it's never the same. You cannot preserve entire ecosystems."

He also points out that the vegetation would not shift in an organized fashion dictated by contour lines; some species move upslope much faster than others. Furthermore, the transition from established species to new invaders could destabilize slopes, he says, leading to enhanced slope erosion and landslides.

For Brad Cardinale, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the loss of any species has potentially dire implications for life on the planet. In a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) in November, Cardinale and colleagues reviewed 44 studies conducted over two decades that simulated extinction to see how biodiversity affects ecosystem productivity.

Productivity is the term scientists use to describe the fundamental biological process by which plants grow and produce more plants. It may not sound sexy, Cardinale says, but the process is responsible for taking greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide (CO2), out of the atmosphere, and producing the oxygen, food, wood and biofuels that allow many of the species on the planet, including humans, to exist.

Cardinale, along with many in his field, have long argued that conservation efforts should be focused on the most productive species in an ecosystem, the less productive species could be ignored. He was shocked by a key finding of his analysis: species are not redundant.

In fact, species loss dramatically affects productivity. "As species go extinct from their natural habitat, we could loose 50 percent of the species, and that's probably an underestimate," he says. "I don't think that anyone expected it to be that large. That translates into 50 percent less productivity, 50 percent less oxygen, 50 percent less CO2, 50 percent less food, wood and biofuel."

It isn't so much the loss of a particular species that matters , it is the loss of biodiversity, Cardinale says.

Recent climate change studies have shown that scientists have overestimated the ability of natural habitats to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Cardinale's analysis points to plant extinctions as a reason "As you cause extinctions, forests, grasslands and such become far worse at taking CO2 out of the atmosphere," he says. "We potentially have this feedback: if climate change causes extinction, extinctions worsen climate change."

For Talbot, scrambling across rounded siltstone hills to establish the first GLORIA site in the North American Arctic, the sense of urgency is often hard to sustain. "A lot of it is boring monitoring work," he says. He'll have to wait three years before he returns to change batteries and download data from the 16 small thermometers he buried at the site.

The big creamy blossoms of mountain avens (Dryas octopetala) and delicate purple blooms of boreal carnations (Dianthus repens) might not be as exciting as many flashier and rarer species, but Talbot understands the value of even these humble plants to the global network. "We're a small part of the whole picture," he says. "One site alone doesn't mean much." But filling in the white spots on the GLORIA map will allow scientists to make sense of changes happening at multiple sites across the globe.

Biodiversity research is still a developing field, Cardinale says. What is clear is that mountain ecosystems may give a preview of what lies in store for the rest of the planet under warming temperatures. "It's scary enough to be seriously concerned about it," he says. "I don't think that we need to preserve every species in order to keep the planet productive. But at the same time, to lose 50 percent of all species, there are some pretty striking implications for humanity that we really haven't struggled with. And we need to begin struggling with them."

Meet the Masters: Visiting Artisans in the Marketplace, Week One

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Walk into the Festival Marketplace this year, and prepare to be awed—not just by beautiful crafts for sale, but also by the visiting artists creating incredible works right in front of you.

The pop-up International Folk Art Market will feature jewelers, basket makers, weavers, textile designers, woodcarvers, and other artisans from over fifteen countries throughout the ten-day Festival. Watch their creations come to life and learn their stories.

This week, you’ll be able to meet:

International Folk Art Market visiting artisans
Photo courtesy of the artist

Agustín Cruz Prudencio
Woordcarver from Oaxaco, Mexico

Prudencio’s career as an artisan blossomed at the age of eleven when began an apprenticeship carving and painting brightly colored figures, animals, and other objects. Drawing from the rich and vibrant traditions of his hometown, Prudencio creates pieces that are alive with color and story. His work incorporates many streams of Mexican history and culture, including indigenous and Aztec imagery, native plants and animals, and Catholic symbolism.

As one who learned the craft early, Prudencio has a deep commitment to sharing his art form with future generations, teaching young people in his community how to create pieces to support their heritage and earn a livelihood for their families.

International Folk Art Market visiting artisans
Photo courtesy of the artist

Andrea Usai / KOKKU
Gold and silver filigree jewelry master from Sardinia, Italy

Andrea Usai employs ancient Phoenician techniques to create breathtakingly intricate jewelry from silver, gold, and gemstones. Using simple, traditional tools and partly recycled materials, he carefully twists wires of precious metals to form pieces that are as beautiful as they are masterful.

Usai remarks, “The art of filigree will only survive by providing enough exposure internationally to create a marketplace for this dying art.” Come witness his incredible craftsmanship in action as he demonstrates this centuries-old art form.

International Folk Art Market visiting artisans
Photo courtesy of the artist

Chantha Nguon / Mekong Blue
Ikat weaver and social entrepreneur from Cambodia

Chantha Nguon is a winner of the UNESCO Award of Excellence for her work combining the traditional art of ikat silk weaving with a model for women’s empowerment. In 2002, she received a $3,000 Partner in Progress grant and started the Stung Tren Women’s Development Centre, where local women learn to weave ikat silks while receiving mentoring and life-skills training to help raise them from poverty. Products made by the center, known by the name Mekong Blue, are considered some of the highest quality silks in Cambodia.

International Folk Art Market visiting artisans
Photo courtesy of the artist

Ebenezer Nomoda Djaba / Cedi Beads
Bead artist from Ghana

Nomoda Ebenezer Djaba (known as “Cedi”) began designing and making Ghanaian glass beads when he was just seven years old, breaking ground as a male artist in a field that is typically the domain of women.

He developed a bright and bold style, using recycled glass that he first crushes into powder and then fires into dazzling, colorful beads. Strands of the beads are worn as necklaces and bracelets in every-day adornment, but they also carry an important place in regional ceremonies where they have been worn for centuries.

Cedi’s workshop continues the tradition of this highly valued craft in Ghana, training local artists in his techniques.

International Folk Art Market visiting artisans
Photo courtesy of the artist

Porfirio Gutierrez
Rug weaver from Mexico

Weaving has been a part of life for Porfirio Gutierrez since he was a child. He learned at a young age which plants to collect to extract natural dyes, a process that could have been easily lost over the years as synthetic dyes became more readily available. Gutierrez views the traditional process of sourcing and making natural dyes as important to the process as the art of weaving itself, and has been a lifelong advocate of preserving this knowledge.

By contrast, his weaving designs are strikingly modern and innovative, bringing him worldwide acclaim. His work can be found in private collections and institutions such as the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Ventura County in California. Gutierrez currently lives in the United States where he teaches workshops and participates in a variety of exhibitions.

International Folk Art Market visiting artisans
Photo courtesy of the artist

Sarah Mutesi / Gahaya Links
Basketry and jewelry artisan from Rwanda

Sarah Mutesi is a member Gahaya Links, an organization formed by two sisters who wanted to use the Rwandan art of basket making as medium for improving the lives of women and families to rebuild their country after years of brutal war. Through an art form that has been passed down through generations, Gahaya Links helps women artists earn money and build peace, improving their quality of life and offering beautiful artwork to the world. Mutesi brings Gahaya Links’ intricately woven baskets and jewelry to new markets, helping the organization continue the cycle of growth and rebuilding.

Find more information on visiting Festival artists, and see a schedule of Marketplace events. We’ll see you in the Marketplace, on the south patio of the National Museum of American History, June 27 to July 1 and July 4 to 8!

Allison Lince-Bentley is the marketing specialist for the 2018 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

The Sistine Chapel of the Andes

Smithsonian Magazine

Perched on a central square in the Andean village of Andahuaylillas, Peru, the whitewashed church of San Pedro Apóstol seems unremarkable at first. But inside is an eye-popping kaleidoscope—a dazzling display of colorful murals, a coffered painted ceiling and an ornate gold-leaf altar—earning it the moniker of “The Sistine Chapel of the Andes.” The Spanish began constructing the Baroque church in the late 16th century, as they cemented their conquest over the Inca Empire.

Most visitors to this part of Peru focus on Inca ruins—Cuzco is only 25 miles away—but its rural churches are worth a trip. An excursion to San Pedro and two other churches in neighboring Huaro and Canincunca sheds light on Peru’s often-overlooked artistic heritage.

Ready for a change after four days on the Inca trail, I hired a taxi in Cuzco and visited the churches one morning, traveling on the open roads of the Quispicanchi Valley and along cobbled village streets, where the pace of life is far slower than on the tourist circuit. In Andahuaylillas, I met Cara Caponi, an American Jesuit volunteer and amateur historian, who led me around all three churches. When she arrived in Peru several months ago, she knew little about these churches, but she’s devoted much effort to studying them and enjoys sharing her appreciation what she’s learned.

San Pedro has been under restoration since 2009, but its doors have stayed open. Locals trained at the fine arts school in Cuzco are cleaning the walls, conserving the paintings and strengthening the facade and roof. The roof of one of the side chapels had collapsed from water damage, destroying sections of the murals. The conservators have painted over the damaged portions in blue, so the remaining figures of angels and Christ peek out as if through a smudged window. The restoration, funded by the World Monuments Fund and the Spanish petroleum company Repsol, should be completed by the end of this year.

What sets the churches apart is the density of paintings, says Gauvin Bailey, author of The Andean Hybrid Baroque: Convergent Cultures in the Churches of Colonial Peru. Teams of itinerant Andean painters created the works largely in the 17th and 18th centuries. Murals were seen as an effective way to overcome language barriers to evangelize the Quechua-speaking population. San Pedro’s paintings abound with Christian allegories. At the church’s entrance, a busy tableau, inspired by the inferno, features a soul-eating monster breathing fire in hell, while angels in heaven guard against demons. Even the two organs in the choir loft are decorated, with angels playing instruments.

Image by Marjan de Blaauw. The whitewashed church of San Pedro Apóstol in the Andean village of Andahuaylillas, Peru has been under restoration since 2009. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Flickr user Gusjer. Inside the church of San Pedro Apóstol is an ornate gold-leaf altar—earning it the moniker of "The Sistine Chapel of the Andes." (original image)

Image by Peter Hess. The Spanish began constructing the Baroque church in the late 16th century. (original image)

Image by Peter Hess. Especially fascinating, says Bailey, author of The Andean Hybrid Baroque: Convergent Cultures in the Churches of Colonial Peru, is how many indigenous symbols are tucked among Biblical ones—images of native plants, fruit and animals. (original image)

Image by Peter Hess. Teams of itinerant Andean painters created the church paintings largely in the 17th and 18th centuries. (original image)

Especially fascinating, says Bailey, is how many indigenous symbols are tucked among Biblical ones—images of native plants, fruit and animals. Christian figures are arranged in ways that reflect Inca ideas of the cosmos; in the Annunciation scene painted in the chir, a hole in the wall represents the Holy Spirit and allows the sun to shine through. “Inti, the sun god, was the main Inca deity, so [the scheme] ties the two faiths together,” Bailey says.

But the Spanish didn’t build churches for religious reasons alone. Before they arrived, indigenous people lived off the land, and there were few villages. By building churches and squares, the Spanish created town centers, which made locals easier to govern. In Andahuaylillas, San Pedro is still a community hub. Caponi works at the parish soup kitchen, which feeds nearly 400 children a day, and there’s also an after-school program, library and legal services office, all supported in part from a nominal fee to see the church.

Entrance fees provide a major source of income for many parishes in Peru, and it’s hoped that a newly established Andean Baroque Route, linking churches across the country, will encourage more tourism. Though school groups and tourists throng to Andahuaylillas, not many stop by Huaro or Canincunca. Huaro’s San Juan Bautista, only a ten-minute drive from Andahuaylillas, finished its restoration in 2008. The town square looks untouched by modernity. With far fewer visitors than San Pedro, the church feels more peaceful and humble. The soft hues of its murals—pink, pale blue and white—give the nave an airy feel. San Juan Bautista’s murals are missing fragments, but what has been restored is sharp and vibrant. Most vivid are the nightmarish scenes of the Last Judgment in the entryway, the work of the 19th-century mestizo painter Tadeo Escalante. Naked bodies swirl against a fiery background, falling into caldrons and a monster’s mouth, while an angel blows bubbles that represent our mortality.

Our final stop was the chapel in Canincunca built in 1620. Dedicated to the Purified Virgin, patroness of travelers, it sits on a busy road overlooking the Urcos Lagoon. The spot was once a sacred site for the pre-Inca Wari people, and the frame around the chapel custodian’s door is decorated with a stone carving of the Wari spiral of life. We had to knock to get in, but the kindly man who opened the door assured us that visitors were welcome to disturb him anytime—almost no one does.

Inside, the ceiling is warped, a wall is bowed and most of the murals are faded. All that hints at the chapel’s former brilliance are the deep red walls by the entrance, covered with Andean motifs. Stylized vines crawl up the wall and big daisy-like blossoms peek down from the balcony. Even in their muted state, the murals are exuberant paeans to God and Pachamama (mother earth)—and a reward for whoever makes the trek.

Smithsonian Perspectives

Smithsonian Magazine

Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, would be surprised if he were to revisit the Mall today and see the complex of museums representing the institution he had so much to do with establishing. He reluctantly accepted responsibility for the collections assembled under government auspices in various official exploring expeditions, such as that of Comdr. Charles Wilkes to the South Seas. But he feared that "filling a costly building with an indiscriminate collection of objects of curiosity, and giving these in charge to a set of inactive curators," would dull the research edge of an institution founded for the primary purpose of advancing knowledge and, secondarily, of disseminating that newly acquired knowledge.

Henry had successfully resisted efforts to transform the Smithsonian into the national library, turning over the bulk of the Institution's collections to the then small Library of Congress. In the process he had to fire the distinguished librarian Charles Coffin Jewett and then weather a tough Congressional investigation before he made the decision stick. Henry believed that a great nation should have a great national library, but he believed that it should not be at the expense of an institution, unique in its day, dedicated to the advancement of knowledge.

Joseph Henry had no animus against the collection of objects, so long as it contributed toward meeting that goal. The first publication of the Smithsonian Institution was a study of the archaeological remains of an early Indian civilization in the Ohio Valley, which Henry personally purged of its speculative aspects, insisting that its authors limit themselves to verifiable, incontrovertible facts. To that end the Smithsonian sponsored expeditions to Alaska (then in Russian hands) and to the Western territories of the United States in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson's sponsorship of the Lewis and Clark expedition earlier in the century. The investigators were to collect data on native inhabitants, geography, geology, flora and fauna, and the like, so that a better understanding of these regions could be achieved. This often meant collecting objects to be analyzed later at the Institution and disseminating the data in Smithsonian publications. Yet Henry continued to worry that the accumulation of materials collected by Smithsonian researchers would require increased space, time and money to preserve. So he urged a process of distributing objects, once they had served their primary purpose, to smaller museums and historical societies for educational and documentational purposes.

Fortunately, in my view, Henry was not able to limit the growth of Smithsonian museums as he had the earlier library. Having accepted an appropriation from the federal government to take charge of the museum of the United States in 1857, he was in less of a position to halt the process when collections began to pour in during the latter half of the century. He was in an even weaker position when the Smithsonian received objects donated by foreign and domestic exhibitors following the centennial celebration of 1876, in Philadelphia. The objects, he noted, amounted "in bulk [to] four times the space of the present Smithsonian edifice" and created "a crisis in the history of the Smithsonian." Henry never was able to resolve the dilemma. He died in 1878 and was succeeded as Secretary by his "assistant in the department of natural history," Spencer Fullerton Baird.

Baird, the quintessential museum man, was a distinguished scholar in natural history, and his publications list of what were mostly taxonomic studies fills an entire volume. He had been in charge of the U.S. Government's participation in the centennial celebration and welcomed the accession of objects to the Smithsonian's collections after the exhibition's close. He then persuaded Congress to fund a second Smithsonian building, the old National Museum (now the Arts and Industries Building), to house them. Joseph Henry's death and Spencer Baird's succession to the secretaryship marked the end of all restraints on the development of the collections and the accompanying museums to house them.

Since that time, dynamic tension between the research, collecting and educational activities of the Smithsonian has been a continuing theme within the Institution, as successive Secretaries have promoted now one, and now the other. These activities, rightly balanced, can legitimately express the ideal of the founder of the Institution, but improperly pursued, they can result in conflict and carry the Institution away from its mandate to increase knowledge.

My own feeling, coming from a great research and teaching institution - the University of California - that did not exist when the Smithsonian was founded, is that the advancement of knowledge is a sacred trust to which we continue to be obligated. The fulfillment of this responsibility through properly directed collecting, research and educational activities seems to me to be in keeping with Joseph Henry's vision for the Smithsonian, as well as James Smithson's. It is a responsibility that I take seriously and hope to carry out in my own administration of the Institution in the coming years.

Covered Basket

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.
From card: "Cylindrical basket with top fitting over the rim. Small hollow knob has seeds as a rattle. Very finely woven of tan grass in plain twining with embroidered bands top and bottom and four stars spaced around the middle. Made in 1935 by protege of Maggie. Illus.: Hndbk. N. Amer. Ind., Vol. 5, Arctic, fig. 4B, pg. 168." Handbook caption notes that this Aleut grass basket was made with two-strand twining. "Basket with embroidered designs and rattling seeds in the lid top. The bottom was worked in a type of net stitch that produces a pattern and quickly increases circumference. The bottom was suspended from a string or put over a form to hold it upside down, and weaving proceeded from left to right." Handbook figure for the basket includes a photo of the side and bottom of the basket, and drawings illustrating two-strand twining method and method of net stitch used on bottom of basket.

This object is on loan to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, from 2010 through 2022.

Source of the information below: Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska Native Collections: Sharing Knowledge website, by Aron Crowell, entry on this artifact, retrieved 7-17-2013: Basket. "When you pick it you say a little prayer, thanking the grass for letting us have some of it, and that we won't abuse it ... It's easier to weave if it is moist. If it's not so moist it breaks all the time. You have to do that as you go along. We usually keep a little glass of water to dip our fingers in." -Maria Turnpaugh, 2003 Grass storage baskets were traditionally made to hold dried fish, roots, and meat; other types were for gathering beach foods and plants. Small, round, lidded baskets like this one were invented in the nineteenth century and made primarily for sale. Designs were added using dyed grass, split spruce root, silk embroidery thread, and yarn. Grass for baskets is gathered in the summer on coastal hillsides; the weaver bundles, ages, sorts, dries, and splits the stems to prepare them. At least eight weaving patterns are historically known. From elders' discussions of the parka in 2003 (see web page cited above for the full entries) discussion with Mary N. Bourdukofsky, Vlass Shabolin, Maria Turnpaugh and Daria Dirks (Tanadgusix Foundation) at the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian, 4/07/2003-4/11/2003. Also participating: Aron Crowell and Bill Fitzhugh (NMNH) and Suzi Jones (AMHA). Maria Turnpaugh: Wow, I recognize this one. That's the most beautiful work. Mary Bourdukofsky: Attu? Maria Turnpaugh: Attu. Look at that small cross-stitch. Aron Crowell: You knew right away it was from Attu? Maria Turnpaugh: Oh, yes. Aron Crowell: Is that because there’s a distinctive style? Mary Bourdukofsky: Yes. Maria Turnpaugh: That weaving, it's like cloth.

Daria Dirks: I thought Atka weavers were the best. Maria Turnpaugh: Mm-hmm. You can't beat Attu baskets, and there aren't anymore. Aron Crowell: Is the weaving technique the same all throughout the Aleutian Islands? Maria Turnpaugh: It's the same, but [the difference is] the fineness of the grass. They have the best grass. It's soft. I think Attu-Atka has the best grass. Mary Bourdukofsky: You know we tried-with your mom Florence-we tried beach grass at St. Paul. It was really hard, it broke easy. I don't know why. Maria Turnpaugh: Too close to the salt water I think. You have to get it up out of the sea spray, kind of up in the hills. They don't have big patches, but be sure you don’t take the root out. You cut them so the grass will grow up again and don’t take too many from one spot. Aron Crowell: What are the Unangax^ names for it. Mary Bourdukofsky: Qaag^ax^. (Grass.) Aron Crowell: Do you harvest the grass when it's green? Mary Bourdukofsky: Yes, in the summertime. Maria Turnpaugh: Before the inner blade is unfurled. Daria Dirks: There’s a certain time, I think my Russian-Aleut friend did it at the end of July. Maria Turnpaugh: There’s different times. Aron Crowell: Are there special spots around the island where people know there is really good grass for baskets?

Maria Turnpaugh: Yes, but so much of it now is on private property it’s hard to get good grass. ... Aron Crowell: Are there any sayings about grass or beliefs about grass that are important when you're picking it or how about using it? Maria Turnpaugh: Oh, you say a little prayer, thanking the grass for letting us have some of it, and that we won't abuse it. Preparing grass Maria Turnpaugh: You tear off the three outer leaves and throw them away. Then you cut down as far as you can, and you take that grass-sometimes it's that tall [approximately three feet]-and you get a bundle about like this [arms full], as much as you can hold, and you take it and put it in a gunnysack. You put them under your porch or somewhere, and everyday look at them and turn them so they don't mold or anything. Or you can put them on a hillside and let them naturally turn. But it's not good [to leave them outside] where there's many eagles. When they're all yellow, you take more outer leaves and take one leaf that's unfurled-most of them are about eighteen inches long. You clean all of that bundle, then you clean the inner ones-you'll have a bundle as big as your wrist [of the inner blades]. By the time you've sorted it out [two blade types] and split that inner blade on the outer edges, which they use for the weavers [outer part of blade]. And then the center you use for the weaves, that's the legs hanging down. Aron Crowell: Split it with your fingernail? Maria Turnpaugh: You're supposed to, but I don't have fingernails. I usually use a needle. Aron Crowell: So the weavers are the ones that go around the basket? Maria Turnpaugh: Yes. Aron Crowell: And the weaves are the ones that go- Maria Turnpaugh: Hanging down. By the time you're ready to weave a basket, you have about that much [circumference of middle finger] for your weavers and maybe about that much [circumference of pinkie finger] for your weaves. Aron Crowell: Does it get so small because you're taking out pieces that won't work? Maria Turnpaugh: Yes. They're just no good to use. It's the inner blade that is not hard, doesn't get very hard. Some of that grass is so nice and soft, even after it's dried. But it's hard to get any grass anymore, you have to get them out away from the sea spray, because the salt water hardens it.

Mary Bourdukofsky: The salt water makes it break easily, even after you wash it. Maria Turnpaugh: After you get it all bundled up, you take it back up and wash it with Joy soap and rinse it real well. And then you can hang it out in the sun. They say if you want to bleach it more, you put it out when the sun is shining in the winter, and it bleaches grass up really good. I tried that once but it didn't work, but I guess I didn't do it right. That's a lot of work. Aron Crowell: Did people ever color the grass? Mary Bourdukofsky: Yes. Maria Turnpaugh: You could use blueberries and there's this red clay-like -what is it- ocher. There's places on Unalaska that have it, but it's on private property now. And tea and coffee for the browns. Mary Bourdukofsky: Tea makes it a pretty color. Maria Turnpaugh: And some of the wildflowers, like the iris, make really pretty dark blue. Aron Crowell: So would you need to get the juice and soak the grass in the juice? Maria Turnpaugh: Soak it, yes. I saw these beautiful Hooper Bay [Yup'ik] baskets, and I was talking to an old lady and asked her how she dyed it that way. I just couldn’t figure out how beautiful they were, how shiny. She said Rit dye [laughs]. I was so disappointed. I thought I was going to learn something new. Aron Crowell: One of the Yup'ik ladies told us they used crepe paper. Because the color comes off it so easily, you just soak it in water. Maria Turnpaugh: They used to do that a long time ago too I remember. Mary Bourdukofsky: Yes, and onion peelings. Maria Turnpaugh: Onion skins make a pretty yellowish [color].

Weaving Maria Turnpaugh: It's easier to weave if it [grass] is moist. If it's not so moist, it breaks all the time. You have to do that as you go along. We usually keep a little glass of water to dip our fingers in. That’s why I always let it soak for a while. Mary Bourdukofsky: Yes, I keep dampening my grass. Daria Dirks: So how many [weaves] do you usually start out with Maria? Maria Turnpaugh: Six. How many do you have? Daria Dirks: Between six and eight. Mary Bourdukofsky: Your spokes [weaves], are they raffia? Maria Turnpaugh: You use raffia because grass breaks so easily if you’re first learning, I let them use raffia. You use grass for the weavers. I'll show you. I am twisting my weaves, the ones that hang down. Mary Bourdukofsky: Do you tie yours or twist it for starting? Maria Turnpaugh: I tie it. Mary Bourdukofsky: I tie mine too. Maria Turnpaugh: I have [a bundle of] six strands of raffia for my weaves. I get it in the middle and get my weaver, and I tie it around the middle [leaving a short end and a long weaver]. Then I take the grass weaver, put it around my finger. And then I take this strand [weaver], twist it, and take this [weave] and exchange it with this other one [weaver], pull that [weave] up, and then the next one [weave] I pull over and exchange the weaver. And the next one [weave] the same, until you get to this one here [6th weave]. And I take and turn it. I take the weave-I’m starting on my second row-and put the weaver in between the two weaves and exchange. You kind of twist your grass as you go, and you keep this finger here underneath it [flat circle of woven grass] for tension. Exchange, twist, exchange, twist, exchange, twist . . . and you’ve got the beginning of your little circle here [at center]. Aron Crowell: So is it the weave that increases in diameter, because you're making the bottom now?

Maria Turnpaugh: Yes, and you do this for a couple of rows. When there's a space about that much [approximately 1/8 inch] between the grasses, you add one of the weavers. Maria Turnpaugh: So, now there's a space [in woven grass], so I'm going to add a weaver there. I put that in [between woven grass] about that far, couple of inches or inch or so, and weave that in with the next grass. You anchor it like that so you don't pull it out when you go around again. Daria Dirks: Mine kept coming out. Maria Turnpaugh: If you don't anchor them, they'll keep coming out, and it's frustrating. Some people don't, but I do. And you weave on, and then you add another one. Aron Crowell: When women are making baskets, is this something that you get together to do? Maria Turnpaugh: Most of the time, mm-hmm. Mary Bourdukofsky: Yes, visit each other and chat along while you do it. Maria Turnpaugh: And then we have the serious ones who do it for money, that's their job. They weave all the time, every chance they get. Like some women with children that are the sole supporter of those children, they weave every chance they get. Learning basket-making Aron Crowell: Who did you learn basket-making from? Maria Turnpaugh: Anfesia [Shapsnikoff] taught me. She was a famous Attu basketmaker. She did beautiful work. Mary Bourdukofsky: I think she went all over Alaska and taught. Maria Turnpaugh: She went to Fairbanks and Anchorage colleges to teach and to Kodiak. She even went down to Lower-48. Aron Crowell: Mary, how did you learn?

Mary Bourdukofsky: My mom taught us, and then I had no interest in it so I dropped it for maybe twenty years or so. And then I went to Anchorage and I met Anfesia, so I picked it up again. I said, "I know how." So she said, "I"ll come over to your house.” But I said, “I'm kind of lost, you know, when I try to make it again." She said, "I'll teach you how again." So I picked it up again from her. Because my mom died long ago, but I really should have learned from her. She said, "Oh, you learned it fast." Well, because I used to do it. Aron Crowell: You first learned when you were quite young? Mary Bourdukofsky: Yes, quite young. Maria Turnpaugh: I remember the first basket I made. I was eight years old, and I was so proud of that. When I think back on it, it looked like it had a bunch of warts on it. I gave it to my dad I remember. But I didn't keep it up because I had thirteen kids, and you just don’t have time. Mary Bourdukofsky: Same with me, I had seven. They're all grown, and you start picking up the things you put aside. Aron Crowell: What are some of things that baskets are used for—not for s-le, but the way people would use them around the house? Maria Turnpaugh: Well, the fish basket with the big open weave was really quite popular, because you could carry food in it. And they'd even make baskets to carry water. They'd weave so tight and then the water would make them tight too. Mary Bourdukofsky: Carry water with it, that's what my mom used to say. Maria Turnpaugh: And I read someplace that they even used it for cooking.

Live from Oakland: The Sounds of California

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

In addition to Basque: Innovation in Culture, the 2016 Folklife Festival will feature a second program on Sounds of California. A concert series, the program is part of a broader research and community engagement initiative exploring music and soundscapes as vital expressions of collective experience in the state.

We presented a related precursor Sounds of California event at the Oakland Museum of California on December 6, celebrating the power of music to express community identity, migration experiences, and cultural resilience. The event was co-produced with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts and Radio Bilingüe, in collaboration with the Oakland Museum.

Take a listen below to some of the sounds emerging from the places, interactions, and experiences reshaping California today.

Vincent Medina of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe in Berkeley

Vincent Medina
Muwekma Ohlone, Berkeley
A leader in the movement to revive Chochenyo, the language of his Muwekma Ohlone tribe, Vincent Medina is a writer and poet who serves as assistant curator at Mission Dolores and outreach coordinator for News from Native California/Heyday Berkeley Roundhouse. In this audio segment he tells the story of Blood Monster and how a community, with the help of Coyote, defeats it.


Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble

Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble
San Francisco

This ensemble specializes in traditional tuned gong music rooted in the indigenous Muslim-Filipino Maguindanaon culture of Mindanao Island. The group is led by Danongan “Danny” Kalanduyan, an NEA National Heritage Fellow who has been central to developing kulintang music in the United States.


Diamano Coura West African Dance Company

Diamano Coura West African Dance Company
This cultural and performance company is dedicated to the preservation, education, and appreciation of West African music, dance, theater, and culture. Under the direction of Zak Diouf and Naomi Gedo Diouf, the group lives up to its name, which in the Senegalese Wolof language means “those who bring the message.”


Grupo Nuu Yuku – Danza de los Diablos de San Miguel Cuevas & Banda Brillo de San Miguel Cuevas

Grupo Nuu Yuku – Danza de los Diablos de San Miguel Cuevas & Banda Brillo de San Miguel Cuevas
San Joaquin Valley

These musicians and dancers represent the region’s Mixteco farmworker communities—including those who grew up in California. Banda Brillo is a ten-person wind ensemble that was established in 2005. Grupo Nuu Yuku is comprised of as many as fifty men, women, and children, who perform a specialized local tradition, danza de los diablos, widely practiced in the town of San Miguel Cuevas in northern Oaxaca.

Hear more from the program and learn about the Sounds of California initiative on KQED and Radio Bilingüe.

Photos by Lily Kharrazi, Nancy Ukai Russell, and Steve Velasquez. Audio recordings by Michael Yoshida, courtesy of Radio Bilingüe. Media editing by Elisa Hough.

The Sounds of California initiative is a collaboration among the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Radio Bilingüe, and the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Thanks to the Oakland Museum of California for co-producing the December 6 event, in particular Cynthia Taylor, Lisa Sasaki, Jorge Gonzalez, and Aja Archuleta. The program was funded in part by the Smithsonian Grand Challenges Consortia for the Humanities.

Smithsonian Notable Books for Children, 1995

Smithsonian Magazine

One afternoon in Stockholm, during the winter of 1944, a 37-year-old housewife, about to become as famous as can be, sat in bed, propped up on pillows, writing away. Astrid Lindgren had slipped on an icy walk the day before and wanted to set herself a diverting task as she nursed a sprained ankle. The first sentences she scribbled down would crystallize into a passage instantly recognizable to millions of children: "Way out at the end of a tiny little town was an old overgrown garden, and in the garden was an old house, and in the house lived Pippi Longstocking. She was nine years old, and she lived there all alone."

The setting is the ramshackle Villa Villekulla, an inviting yellow-frame cottage and the scene of Pippi's transfixing exploits. Pippi Longstocking emerged as a sensational success from the moment the book appeared in 1945 (published by Raben & Sjogren). Fifty years later, the Pippi stories are the world's most translated books for young readers; the latest count shows the three novels appearing in more than 60 languages. (Lindgren herself, now a relentlessly vigorous 88, is the world's most translated living writer for children.) Pippi turns 50 this year, but it seems the moment to point out that she is ageless-and, as one admirer has put it, still "looks good in pigtails."

The freckle-faced renegade is mistress of all she surveys from Villekulla's veranda — the creaking gate, the gravel path, the noble climbing trees. Her domestic arrangements, as any of Pippi's countless readers can attest, are irregular at best. She manages without the interference of guardians or parents (Mama is "an angel in heaven"; devoted Papa, a sea captain, has been lost at sea-although Pippi expects him to return at any moment).

The absence of adult supervision leaves her free to arrange her existence as she will — "there was no one to tell her to go to bed just when she was having the most fun, and no one who could make her take cod liver oil when she much preferred caramel candy." Under those conditions, one naturally has a good deal of time to flip pancakes onto the ceiling, whip up batches of 500 cookies at a time, toss crockery from the treetops, and adorn the parlor wallpaper with an image of "a fat lady in a red dress and a black hat" who brandishes a yellow flower and a dead rat. ("Pippi thought it a very beautiful picture; it dressed up the whole room.")

Not that she lives without companions. Mr. Nilsson, the monkey, cavorts around the kitchen and sleeps under a doll's patchwork quilt. Her beloved horse placidly munches oats from a soup bowl on the porch. (Whenever Pippi wants to canter off, she simply hoists her steed down from the front steps to the garden; as befits a heroine rooted in Scandinavian folklore, she is preternaturally strong.) And most of Pippi's waking hours are spent in the company of the children next door, Annika and Tommy, "good, well brought up, and obedient," who are liberated from a regimen of dreary nursery games once Pippi arrives.

This charmed existence, singularly unfettered, lies at the heart of Pippi's enduring appeal. Life at Villekulla speaks to one of the deepest and most alluring of early fantasies: the odyssey of the self-reliant and inventive child, drawing on inner resources to overcome obstacles and vanquish fears. Pippi has never encountered a hurdle she cannot surmount-"Don't you worry about me. I'll always come out on top" is her watchword-and children worldwide are ravished by her cheerful delinquency.

Adults, not suprisingly, do not always take kindly to such effrontery. Pippi is brash and blunt and rude. Ask her to afternoon tea and she will wolf down an entire cake. She won't intend to, but somehow it will happen. ("Now you mustn't feel bad about such a little accident," Pippi consoles the neighborhood matrons, who are miffed beyond words when a centerpiece confection vanishes before their eyes. "The main thing is that we have our health.") This incident set off a storm of protest when the novel first appeared in Sweden. "No normal child," groused an indignant correspondent, "sleeps with her feet on the pillow, or eats a whole cake by herself at a party." Lindgren retorted quietly: "No normal child can lift a horse with one arm either."

Providentially, Pippi is redeemed by her compassion and her courage. When five neighborhood bullies set upon one hapless boy — and have the temerity to tease Pippi — she trounces them one by one, Valkyrie-style. Face blazing, auburn braids streaming in the wind, she dispenses a just revenge to the ringleader and his cronies:

"'I don't think you have a very nice way with ladies,' said Pippi. And she lifted him in her strong arms — high in the air — and carried him to a birch tree and hung him over a branch. Then she took the next boy and hung him over another branch. The next one she set on a gatepost outside a cottage, and the next she threw right over a fence so that he landed in a flower bed. The last of the fighters she put in a tiny toy cart that stood by the road. . . . The boys were absolutely speechless with fright."

She is an equally passionate protector of animals. When Pippi comes upon a fellow beating his carthorse as it struggles to pull a crushing load, she thrashes that scoundrel as well. And carries the exhausted equine — "who was astonished" — home to the safety of his stall. And breaks the whip into "tiny, tiny pieces." And takes hold of the wagon shafts and pulls the cart home, so as to spare the steed the trouble.

Heroism such as Pippi's, quiet and unflinching, prevails in many of this year's titles as well: an Iowa farm girl risks her life to rescue victims of an 1881 train wreck; the young Frederick Douglass defies his oppressors; village women living on the outskirts of a rain forest in India thwart the developers who are clear-cutting their life-sustaining trees. High spirits abound too, in the tales of a mutt who renovates the doghouse of his dreams, a sea monster with a penchant for rescuing swimmers, and a boy who resorts to good-natured bribery in order to free Brooklyn from a punishing drought.

Home Lovely written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins. A resonant, memorable tale of new beginnings, centered on a child who transforms the plot around her house trailer into a garden lush with melons and tomatoes. A fairy godfather, in the form of the mail carrier, comes bearing petunias. Could I choose but one title from 1995, it would be this book, shining with a grace all its own.

Pond Year by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Mike Bostock. Waiting for muskrats, scouting for salamanders: a page-turning account of two friends, "wiggly little girls" up to their knees in mud, exploring the inner life of algae and frogs' eggs.

A Walk to the Great Mystery written and illustrated by Virginia A. Stroud (Dial, $14.99) Over the wooden bridge and into the woods with Grandmother, a Cherokee medicine woman and kindred spirit of hummingbirds and pine trees. A lilting excursion into the ineffable, and into Native American tradition.

Valentine by Carol Carrick, illustrated by Paddy Bouma. On a bitter February afternoon, a girl and her grandmother gather in a woodstove-warmed kitchen to nurse a newborn lamb back to life. Certain to be another classic from Carrick.

Listen for the Bus by Patricia McMahon, photographed by John Godt. The chronicle of David, a boy who "likes big dogs and listening to the train" and who happens to be blind, off for his first week of kindergarten. A testament to courage, with splendid photographs.

Waiting for Filippo: The Life of Renaissance Architect Filippo Brunelleschi written, with illustrations and pop-ups, by Michael Bender. A foray into 15th-century Florence and the life and times of the sculptor, engineer and architect who created the dome atop the Duomo, with magnificent three-dimensional drawings.

Ten Flashing Fireflies by Philemon Sturges, illustrated by Anna Vojtech. A clever counting book and an evocation of childhood's deep, dark summer nights, when dreams are as thick as stars.

Fernando's Gift / El Regalo de Fernando written and photographed by Douglas Keister. The author traveled "deep inside the rain forest in Costa Rica" to document the life of a family committed to saving that country's remnant of old-growth tracts. Superb natural history, featuring English and Spanish text.

The Last Dragon by Susan Miho Nunes, illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet. Above a noodle factory, in a small apartment, a miracle unfolds: during the summer that a boy visits his great-aunt in San Francisco's Chinatown, he rescues a faded silk dragon from a shop window. A rare, wonderful story about the riches of an ancient culture, with refulgent watercolors.

Architecture by Richard Wood and Language and Writing by Peggy Burns and Julian Rowe. Two recent titles in a groundbreaking, visually stunning series trace ideas in science and culture that underlie our intellectual legacy.

The River That Went to the Sky: Twelve Tales by African Storytellers, selected and edited by Mary Medlicott, illustrated by Ademola Akintola. A couple who adopt every orphan in their town; a boy who understands the language of birds; an aspiring botanist who brings rain to her village — stories steeped in laughter and sagacity, from across the continent.

The Harvest Birds / los pajaros de la cosecha by Blanca Lopez de Mariscal, illustrated by Enrique Flores. In an eloquent rendition of a folktale from Oaxaca, Mexico, a young man whose "head holds many dreams" coaxes a patch of land into a green thicket of corn, beans and squash, as a flock of zanate birds imparts to him the deepest secrets of the earth.

Arthur's TV Trouble written and illustrated by Marc Brown. A cautionary tale, low-key and witty, featuring a child ensnared in the clutches of a television commercial. Should be required reading at the FCC.

The Kingfisher Book of the Ancient World by Hazel Mary Martell [Dr. Paul Bahn, consultant]. It's incredible that an outlay of two ten-dollar bills can make this tome your own: global time travel from the Ice Age to the fall of Rome, lavishly illustrated and studded with intriguing lore from archaeology, anthropology, history.

Sandbox Scientist: Real Science Activities for Little Kids by Michael E. Ross, illustrated by Mary Anne Lloyd. From your kitchen drawers to shelves of the five-and-dime, the simplest materials can make for untrammeled fun. The boredom blues will be vanquished for children ages 2 to 8 or more, and parents.

Two Lands, One Heart: An American Boy's Journey to His Mother's Vietnam by Jeremy Schmidt and Ted Wood, photographs by Ted Wood. In 1975, during the chaos of the Vietnam War's final chapter, 10-year-old Phit and two siblings became separated from their parents. The children made it to America. For 16 years, Phit tried to locate her family; in 1991 she succeeded. She returned home with her 7-year-old son in an odyssey recorded in this account of an extraordinary reunion.

Mother Jones: One Woman's Fight for Labor by Betsy Harvey Kraft. A magnificent biography tracing the career of the legendary union organizer who became known as the "miners' angel."

Aani and the Tree Huggers by Jeannine Atkins, illustrated by Venantius J. Pinto. A testament to heroism, based on events in northern India in the 1970s. When cutting crews came to slash the forests, women and girls faced down the developers and halted the destruction. More books of this caliber might help save the planet.

Mendel's Ladder by Mark Karlins, illustrated by Elaine Greenstein. Magic straight out of Flatbush. When a drought persists, a resourceful boy climbs into the clouds, determined to get to the heart of the matter. Sprint to your bookstore for this one.

Yanomami: People of the Amazon by David M. Schwartz, photographs by Victor Englebert. Into the reaches of the rain forest, the writer-photographer team journeyed to create a masterpiece: a spellbinding chronicle of a day in the life of a village, among a handful of the 20,000 remaining Yanomami. With an appendix featuring things kids can do to help indigenous peoples maintain their precarious hold on survival. Future anthropologists will be sleeping with this book under their pillows.

Frederick Douglass: The Last Day of Slavery by William Miller, illustrated by Cedric Lucas. This powerful account of the legendary activist's years in the Maryland fields, based on Douglass' monumental autobiography, shines with a bravery beyond imagining. The author and the illustrator have created an essential introduction to one of this country's greatest heroes.

Some Fine Grampa! by Alan Arkin, illustrated by Dirk Zimmer. Skywriting bees and polar bears who can knit one swell muffler: Grampa takes it all in stride and so should you. At once droll and discerning, an irresistible romp from the actor-author, who is some funny guy.

If You Should Hear A Honey Guide by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by S.D. Schindler. A mesmerizing armchair journey to East Africa and the bush country habitat of the honey guide, a small brown bird, its numbers diminishing, that feeds on wild honeycomb. Riveting ornithology with breathtaking images, the outstanding natural history title for 1995.

Off to School by Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert, illustrated by Gershom Griffith. Yearning to cross into that "room full of learning" up the hill, a sharecropper's daughter waits for the harvest to come in and her chores to end, so that her year in the classroom might begin. An affecting portrait of a child pursuing her dreams.

Helen and the Hudson Hornet by Nancy Hope Wilson, illustrated by Mary O'Keefe Young. Resplendent as a "huge, soaring ship," a vintage roadster is restored to glory, transporting a 6-year-old girl to the joy ride of her dreams. The text penetrates with acumen to the heart of a child.

When I Go Camping with Grandma by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Allen Garns. Deep into the woods, with a grandmother who "sings to scare away the bears." Marshmallows to moonlight, the next best thing to a real overnight in the wild. They let the fish off the hook, too.

Calling the Doves / El canto de las palomas by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Elly Simmons. An evocation of the accomplished poet's migrant-worker childhood on the California backroads, where he slept in a tent under the stars, his father summoned doves and his mother recited verse at dinner.

No Dear, Not Here by Jean Davies Okimoto, illustrated by Celeste Henriquez. In search of the perfect refuge, a pair of marbled murrelets (endangered Pacific Northwest seabirds) scout sites from Vancouver to Portland. At last they settle in an old-growth fir, the only site where murrelets will raise their young.

In a Circle Long Ago: A Treasury of Native Lore from North America by Nancy Van Laan, illustrated by Lisa Desimini. From how the beaver stole fire to the tale of two mice: legends, songs, poems, encompassing more than 20 tribal traditions, from Inuit and Lenape to Nez Perce and Pueblo.

The Gift of a Traveler by Wendy Matthews, illustrated by Robert Van Nutt. That rare commodity, a Christmas tale original and timeless. In turn-of-the-century Romania, a wolf offers a paw in friendship, and gypsies traffic in wishes come true.

Arthur: High King of Britain by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman. Tales "beyond the reach of time," in a soaring rendition of the epic story cycle.

On the Trail With Miss Pace by Sharon Phillips Denslow, illustrated by G. Brian Karas. A spunky schoolmarm's vacation on a dude ranch, saddled with two students who "stick to her like burrs." Despite her sidekicks, Miss Pace manages to find true love in a witty, winning send-up of one teacher's hard-won holiday.

Lucy's Summer by Donald Hall, illustrated by Michael McCurdy. The distinguished poet's evocation of one season in his own mother's childhood: the year is 1910, when New Hampshire farm dwellers shelled peas, picnicked in the sun and a girl made the journey to faraway Boston.

Kate Shelley: Bound for Legend by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Max Ginsburg. On the night of a terrible deluge in 1881, a 15-year-old Iowa farmgirl crossed the slippery tracks of a 700-foot railroad bridge to guide a rescue party to the site of a train wreck. This re-creation of her exploits is based on contemporary accounts.

Mrs. Donald's Dog Bun and His Home Away from Home by William Maxwell, illustrated by James Stevenson. Indulging a predilection for blue shutters and overstuffed furniture, a "partly Boston bull, partly sheepdog, and partly Labrador" outfits his dream house, only to find that classy digs have their drawbacks. Uproarious for children; sophisticated and witty for their parents.

Any Bear Can Wear Glasses: The Spectacled Bear & Other Curious Creatures by Matthew and Thomas Long, illustrated by Sylvia Long. Flying foxes to frilled lizards, a lively, informative bestiary, complete with habitat map and glossary. Junior naturalists will be taking their flashlights to bed to pore over this title.

Monster Beach by Betty Paraskevas, illustrated by Michael Paraskevas. It's not what you think: no scary apparitions here but, instead, a benevolent beastie who lives for rescue missions on the high seas. Certain to become a perennial favorite.

The Feather-Bed Journey by Paula Kurzband Feder, illustrated by Stacey Schuett. One Hanukkah night, a girl and her mother, now safe in America, retrieve an heirloom. A memorable tale of loss and of some Poles who saved Jewish children.

Everglades by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Wendell Minor. Roseate spoonbills to panthers, an excursion into a threatened world of unearthly beauties, with paintings from a master.

The Storm by Marc Harshman, illustrated by Mark Mohr. "The blackness, the roaring wind, the funnel cloud": set on an Indiana farm, a heart-stopping account of the moment a tornado hits-and of the boy who saves his family's horses.

The Butterfly Seeds written and illustrated by Mary Watson. When a British boy bound for America in 1908 bids farewell to his grandfather, the old man presses a packet of seeds into the youngster's hands. A tale of ties across time and distance, signified by a window-box garden flourishing on a tenement ledge.

Heroes by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee. More than 50,000 Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent served in World War II. Their unsung valor is the shining filament running through this tale of a Japanese-American boy who confronts his taunting playmates when they brand him "the enemy."

Harry's Stormy Night by Una Leavy, illustrated by Peter Utton. With the wind "whistling around chimneys, ripping through branches," a little boy sings his restive baby brother to sleep. A perfect bedtime book.

Josiah True and the Artmaker by Amy Littlesugar, illustrated by Barbara Garrison. A window on early 19th-century America and a rumination on a portraitist's capacity to penetrate our inner selves, this is a book aspiring artists may remember all their lives. The images possess the delicacy and heft of a well-worn quilt.

A Sweet, Sweet Basket by Margie Willis Clary, illustrated by Dennis L. Brown. Plaiting sweetgrass, pine needles and palmetto leaf strips, an artisan teaches her grandchildren how to weave baskets-and to preserve a South Carolina lowlands craft tradition that can be "traced back to Africa."

Night in the Barn by Faye Gibbons, illustrated by Erick Ingraham. Nestled in the hay, keeping shadows at bay, four boys bed down for a sleepover on an autumn night "darker than dark." Spooky as a swooping owl and sweetly reassuring.

Good Night, Sleep Tight by Penelope Lively, illustrated by Adriano Gon. For all children who tumble into bed in the company of a stuffed-animal menagerie: this book will help everyone settle in for sweet dreams.

Does the Linguistic Theory at the Center of the Film ‘Arrival’ Have Any Merit?

Smithsonian Magazine

The aliens’ written language moved in circles, each sentence lacking a defined beginning or end. The alien visitors seemed to view time in a similar manner: as a circular concept.

Working to decode this mysterious language, accomplished human linguist Louise Banks—played in the sci-fi film Arrival by actress Amy Adams—begins to have visions of the past and future as her perception of time shifts from linear to circular. In other words, thinking in a different language causes her thought patterns to change. This is a core idea at the heart of the film: that an intimate relationship exists between the language you speak and the way you perceive the world.

The idea that “there’s a link between the shape of language and what people actually talk about,” actually has roots in 20th century linguistics theory, says Ives Goddard, a curator and linguist in the National Museum of Natural History’s Department of Anthropology. Known as the “Sapir-Whorf hypothesis,” this theory states that language doesn’t just give people a way to express their thoughts—it influences or even determines those thoughts. On the flip side, the evolution of a language is shaped by the culture and environment its speakers live in.

Yet most linguists put little stock in this hypothesis today. We asked a Smithsonian linguist and a Smithsonian anthropologist: Does the film’s central linguistic concept have any merit?

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is controversial on many levels, starting with its name. Linguists Benjamin Lee Whorf and Edward Sapir were close collaborators in the first decades of the 20th century, but they never actually published a hypothesis together about language and cognition. Sapir himself didn’t seem to fully embrace the ideas behind the hypothesis, according to Goddard, who has seen the film (and liked it). It was only after Sapir died in 1939 and wasn’t around to “rein him in,” Goddard says, that his student, Whorf, took Sapir’s thoughts in the more extreme direction that would later become enshrined in the theory named for them.

Whorf’s theory stemmed in part from his study of the Eskimo vocabulary for snow. Citing the work of Sapir’s mentor, anthropologist Franz Boas, Whorf argued that because the Eskimo people lived so intimately with the snow of the Arctic, they had developed far more terms to describe it than people of other cultures.

“We have the same word for falling snow, snow on the ground, snow packed hard like ice, slushy snow, wind-driven flying snow—whatever the situation may be,” Whorf wrote in the MIT Technology Review in 1940, a year after Sapir’s death. “To an Eskimo, this all-inclusive word would be almost unthinkable; he would say that falling snow, slushy snow, and so on, are sensuously and operationally different, different things to contend with; he uses different words for them and for other kinds of snow.” Inspired by Albert Einstein’s concept of relativity, Whorf called this concept “linguistic relativity.”

The exoticness yet simplicity of Whorf’s Eskimo snow example quickly made it a favorite trope among writers and would-be intellectuals. “We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages,” Whorf wrote. “The grammar of each language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather is itself the shaper of ideas.”

Linguistic relativity was packaged and popularized in the 1950s by some of Sapir’s other students. But in the following decades, the theory was ridiculed and dismissed by followers of the linguist Noam Chomsky, who argued that all languages share certain grammatical characteristics. Actually, Chomsky argued, human evolution and the brain have helped determine how languages are formed. “The more you examine Whorf’s arguments, the less sense they make,” linguist Steven Pinker scoffed in his 1994 book The Language Instinct.

Many critics of Whorf and linguistic relativity have accused him of misinterpreting Boas’ work and the Eskimo languages as a whole. In a provocative 1991 paper titled “The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax,” University of Edinburgh linguist Geoffrey Pullum compared the Eskimo snow anecdote to the creature in the movie Alien, which “seemed to spring up everywhere once it got loose on the spaceship, and was very difficult to kill.”

“The fact is that the myth of the multiple words for snow is based on almost nothing at all,” Pullum wrote. “It is a kind of accidentally developed hoax perpetrated by the anthropological linguistics community on itself.”

By contrast, Igor Krupnik, curator and anthropologist at Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, asserts that the hoax is actually a hoax. In his 2010 book, Knowing Our Ice, Krupnik helped vindicate Whorf and Boas in part by documenting more than 100 terms for sea ice alone in the Yupik language. Krupnik argues that because some Eskimo people interact with the sea ice on a daily basis while hunting or sailing, it is natural that they would develop a specialized vocabulary to describe the many variations of sea ice and their associated dangers.

In recent years, some linguists have turned again to ideas of linguistic relativity. Linguist Lera Boroditsky, at the University of California at Santa Cruz, has done research showing that members of the Pormpuraaw Aboriginal tribe think about time passing differently than English speakers, because their language relates it to cardinal directions instead of from left to right. Yet some still say that Arrival goes too far: “they took the hypothesis way beyond anything that is plausible,” linguist and cognitive scientist Betty Birner said of the film in an interview with Slate.

While the specifics of the Sapir-Whorf theory are still viciously argued today, Goddard says that the film offers a thought-provoking example of how integral language is to our lives—and yet how little we know about how it works, even today. “It’s not really about aliens,” as Goddard puts it. “It’s about us.”

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