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Denisovan Fossil Is Identified Outside Siberia for the First Time

Smithsonian Magazine

Fossil evidence of the Denisovans, an extinct hominin species first identified in 2010, has for years been limited to a few fragmentary specimens found in a single Siberian cave. But there were hints that our ancient cousins had travelled far beyond this little pocket of the world; modern humans in East Asia, Australia, the Pacific Islands and the Americas all carry Denisovan DNA.

Now, according to Carl Zimmer of the New York Times, a new scientific paper in Nature has revealed that a hulking jawbone discovered high on the Tibetan Plateau in 1980 belonged to a Denisovan. The landmark research marks the first time that Denisovan fossil evidence has been identified outside Siberia, bolstering scientists’ suspicions that the mysterious hominins were once widespread across East Asia.

The modern-day story of the mandible begins with a Tibetan monk who, in 1980, stumbled upon the fossil while praying in a cave located some 10,700 feet above sea level in Xiahe, China. The monk turned the jawbone over to the Sixth Living Buddha, a religious figure, who in turn passed it on to Lanzhou University in northwestern China. There, the fossil sat for some three decades, until climatologist Fahu Chen and archaeologist Dongju Zhang began studying it in 2010—around the same time that knowledge of the Denisovans was first coming to light.

The fossil was originally discovered in this Tibetan cave in 1980. (Dongju Zhang, Lanzhou University)

Though the jawbone looked human-esque, its lack of chin indicated that the fossil did not belong to modern humans. The molars still stuck in the mandible were also unusually large, and appeared different in shape from the teeth of Neanderthals, a close relative of Denisovans. (Recent evidence, in fact, has revealed that Denisovans mated with Neanderthals.) But Zhang tells Ed Yong of the Atlantic that, at least initially, she “never imagined that [the Xiahe mandible] could be a Denisovan.”

Hoping to learn more about the specimen, Zhang and her fellow researchers conducted a small excavation at the cave where it was found. They unearthed prehistoric tools and animal bones with signs of cut marks, suggesting that some type of ancient human had lived there.

The investigation ultimately expanded to include scientists from several international universities and institutions. Dating of a carbonate crust attached to the mandible revealed that the specimen was at least 160,000 years old, likely making it the oldest-known hominin fossil from the Tibetan Plateau. The minimum age of the jawbone also “equals that of the oldest specimens from the Denisova Cave,” says study co-author Chuan-Chou Shen of the Department of Geosciences at National Taiwan University.

While the researchers were not able to find any traces of DNA preserved in the fossil, they were able to extract proteins from one of the jawbone’s teeth. “Proteins are composed of a sequence of amino acids, and this sequence is coded for in the genome,” explains study co-author Frido Welker, a molecular anthropologist with the Max Planck Institute and the University of Copenhagen. “[A]ncient proteins survive longer than DNA, making them a suitable molecular alternative for evolutionary analyses in cases where ancient DNA does not survive, like the Xiahe mandible.”

Analysis of these proteins led to the researchers’ major discovery: The Xiahe specimen was closely related to Denisovans from the Siberian cave.

The results of the investigation not only confirm that Denisovans did, in fact, exist outside of Siberia, but also help fill in gaps in the genetic history of modern Tibetans. Sherpas and other Tibetans who inhabit inhospitable altitudes carry a unique gene that helps them breathe easily at heights where the limited supply of oxygen would make most people ill. Recent research has shown that the adaptation was inherited from the Denisovans, but it was “difficult to reconcile” these findings with previous discoveries at the Siberian cave, which is located at a relatively low altitude, the study authors write.

The new fossil evidence, however, points to Denisovans occupying the high altitudes of the Tibetan Plateau—a region known as the “Roof of the World.” These ancient hominins had likely “adapted to high-altitude low-oxygen environments long before the regional arrival of modern Homo sapiens,” says Zhang. And when Denisovans mated with modern humans, they passed the adaptation on.

In light of the new discoveries, the researchers hope to take a closer look at other Asian fossil specimens that bear morphological similarities to the Xiahe mandible. As Welker writes, “maybe they, too, will one day turn out to be Denisovans.”

Ten Restaurants the Best Chefs Say Are Worth Traveling For

Smithsonian Magazine

Sometimes, the destination is worth the journey—at least when the journey is to one of the best restaurants in the world. In the brand new book Where Chefs Eat, released this week, hundreds of chefs from around the world weigh in on their favorite places to dine in every corner of the globe. Nestled among the local favorites and bargain bites are some restaurants the chefs say are always worth traveling for, no matter the distance.

Featuring more than 600 of the world's best chefs, Where Chefs Eat is a reference guide for the traveler who plans trips around eating. Below, we've selected ten chefs—from established heavyweights such as Ferran Adrià to iconoclastic upstarts such as David Chang—and looked at the restaurants they say would make them pack their bags, buy a ticket and head out on a culinary adventure.


Where Chefs Eat: A Guide to Chefs' Favorite Restaurants (2015)

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Le Suquet (Laguiole, France)

A dish is prepared at Le Suquet using flowers and vegetables native to the region around the restaurant. (BOUSQUET)

Michel Bras might be one of France's most venerated chefs, according to Food & Wine, but he keeps the country that loves him at arm's length: His restaurant, Le Suquet (also known as Maison Bras), isn't in the capital of Paris, but perched on a hill overlooking the small village of Laguiole, nearly hidden away in the mountains of south-central France. Getting to Bras requires a ten-hour train ride from Paris, followed by another hour in a car weaving through the Aubrac Mountains, and reservations are filled months in advance. 

Bras opened Le Suquet in 1992; by 1999, it had three Michelin stars. Since 2009, Le Suquet has been run by Bras' son Sébastien, who has continued in the style of his father by crafting meals deeply inspired by the surrounding land. Le Suquet's menu draws from the traditions around the Aubrac Mountains, and is rooted in the region's local plants and vegetables—expect meat to play only a supporting role on the menu.

The restaurant is closed during the winter, and opens April through October (it is also closed on Mondays).

+33 565511820 /

Recommended by Ferran Adrià, long considered one of the world's best chefs, who founded the now-closed El Bulli, a restaurant in Spain's Catalonia that was once considered the most influential restaurant in the world. He now runs the El Bulli foundation.

La Grenouillère (La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil, France)

A plate at La Grenouillère. (Flickr user Michael Jones)

First opened as a restaurant and inn in 1920, La Grenouillère specialized in frog-related food items for the better part of a century before chef Alexandre Gauthier took the reins from his father in 2003. At just 23, Gauthier decided to look beyond frogs in the hopes of regaining the Michelin star the restaurant had lost in 2001. Today, his kitchen turns out "radical cuisine," such as a beautiful lobster from Norway presented on a bed of still-smoldering juniper twigs, or morel mushrooms stuffed with sweetbreads and topped with a cone of raw turnip. (Gauthier succeeded in winning back the Michelin star in 2008.)

"Alexandra Gauthier has created a world of his own," explains chef Yves Camdeborde in Where Chefs Eat, "a place totally unique to him. When you go there, you get sucked into his universe. The table setting, the decor in the bedrooms, the crockery, the general attitude ... If you spend two days there it infuses your whole being. He creates a convincingly authentic atmosphere devoid of commercialism. He achieves this because he loves it and you really sense that."

+33 321060722 /

Recommended by Yves Camdeborde, chef at Paris dining hotspot Le Comptoir, which offers a shockingly inexpensive take on the traditional French bistro (the prix-fixe menu costs about $57). The 20-seat restaurant has been one of the city's most difficult reservations to snag since it opened in 2005. 

Noma (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Fried Finnish reindeer moss with pulverized cep mushrooms, at Noma. (Mikkel Heriba)

Some locations are obvious restaurant destinations: Paris, New York, and Tokyo come to mind. Today, Copenhagen has been added to the list of must-visit culinary locales, largely thanks to the enormous influence of Noma and René Redzepi. Redzepi was only 25 when he opened Noma in 2003; seven years later, the restaurant was crowned best in the world by British magazine Restaurant, snatching the title from El Bulli. 

The attitude at Noma is one of cultural pride—Redzepi believes that Nordic cuisine, prepared with the right blend of innovation and local tradition, can compete with any cuisine worldwide. The menu is dictated by what can be found or foraged locally and seasonally: fried reindeer moss with mushroom powder, for example, or radishes served in "soil" made from malted flour. Since its opening in 2003, the restaurant has been housed in a harbor-side warehouse that was once used to store goods shipped into Copenhagen from Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Today, the warehouse attracts thousands of diners, who clamor to snag one of the world's most coveted reservations (they're made available on the 6th of every month, and an entire month can book up in a matter of hours). In early 2015, Noma will move—temporarily—to Japan, where it will run for two months.

+ 45 32963297 /

Recommended by Meyjitte Boughenout, chef and owner at Absynthe, a French-inspired restaurant located in Surfers Paradise​, Australia. Boughenout earned two Michelin stars while working as the executive chef at Restaurant Scholteshos in Belgium.

Benu (San Francisco)

Eggs being cured in fermented pepper paste at Benu. (Eric Wolfinger)

"Cory Lee's team of chefs, pastry chefs and butchers are unmatched," says David Chang in Where Chefs Eat. "Each time I visit Benu, I come away in awe of the food they're making. It's the best restaurant in the United States."

Chang is not alone in his high opinion of Benu, chef Cory Lee's San Francisco restaurant, which calls itself "New American" but finds influence in the flavors of the East. After Benu opened in August 2010, The San Francisco Chronicle's food critic Michael Bauer awarded the restaurant three and a half stars; a year later, it was awarded the full four. In January 2011, The New York Times placed the newborn restaurant on a list of ten places worth a plane ride (its peers included places such as Tickets, Ferran Adrià's post-El Bulli tapas spot). 

Lee studied under culinary powerhouse Thomas Keller, serving as Keller's chef de cuisine at French Laundry before branching out to Benu. With Benu, Lee sought to break new ground, infusing New American cuisine with Asian influences—a soup of dumplings stuffed with foie gras, for instance, or rice cakes meant to evoke the delicate appearance of Italian gnocchi. 

Benu offers a $228 dinner menu Tuesday through Saturday.

+1 4156854860 /

Recommended by David Chang, executive chef and founder of the Momofuku restaurant group, whose outposts include New York's Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssäm Bar and Momofuku Ko.

Mugaritz (Errenteria, Spain)

Basque chef Andoni Aduriz prepares a dish in the kitchen at his restaurant Mugaritz. (© VINCENT WEST/Reuters/Corbis)

Spain doesn't want for influential restaurants, but even among giants like El Bulli and Arzak, Mugaritz commands a unique respect. Long considered one of Spain's most important restaurants, Mugaritz opened in 1998, tucked away in the hills of the Spanish countryside in an old farmhouse. Its chef, Andoni Luis Aduriz, wanted to create a restaurant based around the concept of surprise, and Mugaritz lives up to that initial desire, offering visitors playful takes on texture, taste and aroma with each meticulously crafted bite (perhaps its most famous culinary trompe l'oeil is the amuse bouche of tiny gray stones that are, in actuality, painted potatoes).

Attention to detail rules Mugaritz even before food hits tastebud, from the initial smell of barbecue (specially crafted for the restaurant and meant to remind patrons of their childhood) to a stark white table set around the centerpiece of a broken plate. The broken plate seems to say that expectations are meant to be broken here, whether by a smoked piece of lamb served next to "cultivated fur" (actually a crisp biscuit meant to look like fur) or a mille-feuille made not of sweet, delicate pastry but layers of thin chicken. There is no menu, no set order of plates—instead, the eater is given a personalized meal of some 20 dishes. It's this freedom from constraints, both literal and metaphorical, that have helped Mugaritz earn the moniker of the "most adventurous restaurant in the world."

+34 943522455 /

Recommended by Anatoly Komm, one of Russia's most celebrated chefs, who trained as a geophysicist before turning to cooking in 2000. Today, he is the chef and owner of Varvary, Moscow's premiere destination for molecular gastronomy.

Karavalli (Bangalore, India)

Karavalli, in Bangalore's Gateway Hotel, prides itself on its authenticity; its menu draws inspiration from the coastal flavors of southwest India and leans heavily on seafood. The restaurant even features a fresh grill counter, where the day's best seafood can be grilled to order in front of you.

Executive chef Naren Thimmaiah has spent decades researching the area's culinary history, and the restaurant's menu pays homage to the many cultures (from Portuguese to Syrian Christian) that have influenced the region's food. Thimmaiah is "a true spice master, skillfully balancing subtle fragrances and fiery heat with tropical fruits and ultra-fresh seafood," according to the 2015 San Pellegrino list of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants. Manoj Goel, of Varq, says that Karavalli is a "beautifully designed restaurant with a great variety of seafood," and worth the trip no matter how far.

+91 8066604545 /

Recommended by Manoj Goel, who heads up the kitchen at one of India's most famous restaurants, Varq, in New Delhi.

Iggy's (Singapore)

Hotaru ika (firefly squid), burrata, tomato and caviar at Iggy's. (John Heng for Iggy’s)

Opened in 2004 by restaurateur and sommelier Ignatius Chan, Iggy's has long been named one of the best restaurants not only in Asia, but the world. The restaurant is small—only ten tables, with an additional eight seats at the bar—but the kitchen employs 16 chefs, creating a diner-to-chef ratio that is solidly in the diner's favor. The menu takes inspiration from its owner and namesake's travels around the world, blending tastes and techniques from Asia, Europe and Australia. 

Dinner is served Monday through Saturday, with lunch offered Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sundays.

+65 67322234 /

Recommended by Juan Mari and Elena Arzak, the father-daughter duo behind the triple-Michelin-starred restaurant Arzak, located in San Sebastián, Spain. 

Caffè al Bicerin (Turin, Italy)

The exterior of Caffè al Bicerin in Turin, Italy. (Flickr user Angel TO)

When Caffè al Bicerin opened its doors in 1763, Italy as a country didn't even exist—it would be almost 100 years before Piedmont, in whose capital the restaurant was located, combined with other states to form a unified Italy. Even as a country formed around it, little about Caffè al Bicerin has changed—a tiny neighborhood spot, it still serves perhaps the most famous version of Piedmont's regional drink, the bicerin, made of coffee, chocolate and whipped cream.

"My favorite café in the world," says chef Kamal Mouzawak in Where Chefs Eat. "It's a tiny place with two red velvet benches and white marble tables. Unchanged for the last 250 years."

Over the years, the café has hosted a number of famous patrons, from Puccini to Nietzsche. Beyond the bicerin, it offers a full range of homemade cakes and pastries.

+39 0114369325 /

Recommended by Kamal Mouzawak, founder of Beirut's first farmer's market.

Overture (Stellenbosch, South Africa)

A lunch at Overture. (Overture)

Peter Tempelhoff oversees six restaurants in Cape Town, so he knows a thing or two about dining in South Africa. When he says that he would travel any distance to eat at Overture, it's a serious compliment. "A well-run establishment," Tempelhoff says of Overture in Where Chefs Eat, "which serves perfectly prepared plates and has great service." 

Overture opened in 2007, with chef Bertus Basson and business partner Craig Cormack at the helm. Located in one of South Africa's most famous wine-producing regions, the restaurant's expansive deck offers patrons a sweeping view of the Hidden Valley Estate's vineyards below. The menu is seasonal and influenced by the ingredients of the region, from a steak tartare with slaphakskeentjies (a traditional South African salad) to local fish with sweet corn. The kitchen's blend of culinary finesse with homey flavors seems to be paying off: for six years, Overture has consistently been named one of South Africa's top ten restaurants.

+27 0218802721 /

Recommended by Peter Tempelhoff, a Cape Town native who oversees six restaurants within the Relais & Chateaux hotel group.

Attica (Melbourne, Australia)

Ben Shewry at Attica Restaurant. (Craig Sillitoe Photography /

Attica, at least by some estimations, is the best restaurant in Australia: In their review, the San Pellegrino "World's 50 Best Restaurants" list calls the experience "simultaneously sophisticated and deeply grounded." New Zealand native Ben Shewry, who took over the restaurant in 2005, runs the kitchen, which turns out plates that blend Asian influence with regional ingredients. The dishes are both traditional and innovative—potatoes are served cooked in the soil from which they were pulled; fish is cooked in smoking paper bark and topped with meat-infused butter. Shewry's dishes have won the respect of chefs such as David Chang (who praised the Melbourne restaurant in the glossy pages of Bon Apetit) and René Redzepi in Where Chefs Eat—where he says Attica is one of the restaurants he would travel any distance to visit.

Attica's popularity, combined with its size (only 60 seats) can make it a difficult reservation to snag: bookings are available three months in advance, and they fill quickly. If you're looking to get a table, consider trying for a Tuesday evening, when the kitchen offers a test menu for a fraction of the price of a normal dinner service.

+61 395300111 /

Recommended by René Redzepi, of Noma in Copenhagen. 

The Finnish Baby Box Is Becoming Popular Around the World

Smithsonian Magazine

Beginning around my seventh month of pregnancy, I began to obsess about where the baby would sleep. My husband and I wanted to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ safe sleep recommendations, which call for parents to share a room with their baby for the first year, ideally, to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). But the bedroom in our tiny Hong Kong apartment didn’t have room for a crib, and it seemed ridiculous to spend hundreds of dollars on a bassinet we’d only use for such a brief period.

An old friend in the U.S. solved my problem by mailing me a cardboard box containing…another cardboard box. Fitted with a tiny mattress, the box would become my son’s bassinet for the first several months of his life.

This box was a version of the so-called “Finnish baby box.” Since the 1940s, every pregnant woman in Finland has been gifted a baby box by the government. All she has to do in return is attend a prenatal clinic before her fourth month of pregnancy. The boxes contain about 50 items of baby gear, including a snowsuit, socks, diapers, a bath towel, a thermometer, a picture book and (for the parents) a pack of condoms. Once the items are taken out, the box can be used as a bassinet.

The baby box program was begun as an attempt to reduce Finland’s once-high infant mortality rate. In the 1930s, about 65 out of every 1,000 Finnish babies died in their first year. Poor families didn’t have money for proper clothes, and many parents slept in bed with their infants, a risk factor for SIDS. The box was meant to provide all Finnish babies with an equal start, including a safe separate sleeping space. Today, Finland’s infant mortality rate is about 2.5 babies per 1,000, one of the lowest rates in the world.

Lately, the baby box has been catching on in countries far from Finland. Some public health experts see it as a way to reduce the SIDS rate, others are skeptical, while an increasing number of parents simply appreciate its low cost and portability.

Starting this year, Scotland is offering free baby boxes to all new parents. The boxes contain baby care items similar to those that come in the Finnish boxes. From England to Canada to India, a number of hospitals and municipalities have begun offering free baby boxes as well. There are also various public health projects in the works to bring baby boxes to disadvantaged mothers in the developing world, including Barakat Bundle, a baby box full of items specifically useful in a South Asian context, including a clean delivery kit, and South Africa’s Thula Baba Box.

In the U.S., three states—Ohio, New Jersey and Alabama—have recently started offering baby boxes to parents of all newborns, in exchange for completing some online educational materials about safe sleep. The boxes are provided by Baby Box Co, a California-based company that offers its own take on the Finnish baby box. It also sells boxes directly to the public, as do a number of other recently launched companies from the U.S. to France to Australia.

“I think parents appreciate the simplicity of the idea,” says Kate Compton Barr, of the rise of baby box companies. “In a time where everything comes with 45 bells and whistles and connects to Wi-Fi, baby boxes represent a simpler, back-to-basics solution.”

Compton Barr is a co-founder of Pip & Grow, a baby box company that both sells boxes to the public for about $70 each and partners with community organizations to offer free or discounted boxes. Compton Barr is a public health researcher, while her business partner, Amber Kroeker, is a safe sleep expert. As part of her job, Kroeker reviews situations where babies died and looks to see if anything could have prevented that death.  

“[Kroeker] saw babies dying because parents didn’t have a convenient safe sleep space,” Compton Barr says. “That’s unacceptable. As a mom, I cry at the mere thought of another mom losing her baby. Don’t get me started on what happens if I think about losing my own. We have to do better by parents.”

The SIDS rate is highest in the first six months of life, Compton Barr says, which is exactly when parents are the most exhausted and the least equipped to make safe sleep choices. Tired parents will often let their babies sleep in places like bouncers or on cushions or couches, which are known to be less safe than cribs, even when there’s a crib in the house. Giving families a light, portable place to place a baby may make it more likely that parents follow sleep guidelines.

The United States’ high infant mortality rate makes safe sleep a pressing public health issue. In the U.S., infant mortality is about 5.8 babies per 1,000, more than twice Finland’s. It’s a higher rate than any other wealthy developed nation, just above Serbia and below Bosnia and Herzegovina. But whether baby boxes can help reduce the number of babies dying in a significant way remains to be seen. Some of the problems that lead to America’s relatively high infant mortality rate are deeply rooted and don't have simple solutions.

Racism is one of these roots. Black infants in America die at twice the rate of white infants. SIDS rates among black and Native American babies are about twice as high as among white babies. Poverty and its attendant ills account for some of this. But some studies have shown that wealthy, highly educated black women still lose babies at a higher rate than uneducated white women. This has led some to wonder whether racism itself may lead to things like premature birth and low birth weight, both of which are risk factors for death in the baby’s first year. Perhaps the chronic stress of discrimination and segregation can cause biological changes in the mother that make babies more likely to be early, small or sick.

It’s also not clear how much of Finland’s drop in infant mortality was due to the baby box itself, and how much was due to improving prenatal and postnatal care. In Finland, the baby boxes were a symbol of the country’s larger effort to combat social inequality, an effort which eventually included the establishment of a universal public health care system. The United States lacks such an effort. So while baby boxes may remove some risk factors, they don’t make up for the larger inequalities experienced by ethnic minorities and the poor in America.  

Still, no one doubts that an inexpensive, safe, portable sleeping place for babies is a good thing for both parents and babies. As for us, our son is now too big to sleep in the box, so we use it to store toys. And when we no longer need it for that, there will be no need for Craigslist or a landfill. We'll just unfold it and pop it in the recycling bin. 

Scandinavians’ Strange Holiday Lutefisk Tradition

Smithsonian Magazine

Although the doors don’t open until 11 a.m., the parking lot is already filling up on a Friday morning at Lakeview Lutheran Church in Madison, Wisconsin. Inside, volunteers busily set tables, stir boiling pots and dish out plates of food they’ve been planning and preparing for weeks. Outside, pink-cheeked diners decked in Nordic sweaters head up the steps, eager for their annual taste of lye-soaked cod drenched in melted butter.

“I like lutefisk! It tastes good to me,” says Nelson Walstead with a laugh. Walstead, a Norwegian-American, is the chief organizer of Lakeview Lutheran’s annual lutefisk dinner. “It makes me feel good to know we are keeping the tradition alive, and that we’re passing this on to the next generation,” he says.

It seems only natural that the descendants of the Vikings, perhaps history’s greatest tough guys, would celebrate a food prepared with a caustic and highly dangerous substance. Lutefisk—codfish (fisk) preserved in lye (lut)—is both a delicacy and a tradition among Scandinavian-Americans, who serve the chemical-soaked, gelatinous fish with a warm and friendly smile. Lutefisk, or lutfisk in Swedish, is a traditional dish in Norway, Sweden, and parts of Finland.

But today, Scandinavians rarely eat lutefisk. Far more lutefisk is consumed in the United States, much of it in church and lodge basements. In fact, the self-proclaimed “lutefisk capital of the world” isn’t in Norway but in Madison, Minnesota, where a fiberglass codfish named “Lou T. Fisk” welcomes visitors to this lye-fish loving town. The lutefisk dinner is an annual fall and winter tradition at scores of Lutheran churches and Nordic fraternal groups throughout the Upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest or anywhere with a large Scandinavian-American population. Strangely, these children of immigrants celebrate a tradition that connects them to their ancestral home, even as many Scandinavians have moved on.

“These dinners represent important traditions in both families and communities, and for some, they are a valued connection to culture and heritage,” says Carrie Roy, a Scandinavian cultural scholar and creator of the film Where the Sacred Meets the Quivering Profane: Exploring the Public and Private Spheres of Lutefisk “While the food tradition certainly originated in Scandinavia, the immigrant communities—especially their churches and cultural heritage lodges—have played a major role in developing the phenomenon of lutefisk dinners.”

Lutefisk starts as cod, traditionally caught in the cold waters off Norway. It’s then dried to the point that it attains the feel of leather and the firmness of corrugated cardboard. Water alone can’t reconstitute the fish, so it’s soaked in lye. Yes, lye, the industrial chemical used to unclog drains and dispose of murder victims, the one that explodes when it comes in contact with aluminum. Incidentally, it’s the same chemical that gives pretzels that deep, shiny brown, cures fresh olives for eating, and what makes bagels gleam; these foods just don’t advertise this fact like lutefisk does. The fish is then repeatedly rinsed before being shipped off for cooking and eating. But it’s still so close to toxic that the state of Wisconsin specifically exempts lutefisk from classification as a toxic substance in Section 101.58 (2)(j)(f) of its laws regulating workplace safety.

A strong fishy odor wafts through the stairwell at Lakeview Lutheran as diners dig into steaming platters of lutefisk served family style. Melted butter sits in ceramic pitchers for easy pouring, though other dinners feature a mustard or cream sauce. The fish itself is flaky and a slightly translucent white in color. While still firm in places, the fish tends to be slippery and a little squishy, and the whole platter quivers a bit as it makes its way down the table.

The rest of the meal is a fairly standard slate of starchy seasonal fare: mashed potatoes with gravy, creamy coleslaw, cranberries, green beans and a big bowl of mashed rutabagas that are nearly indistinguishable at quick glance from the mashed potatoes. A pile of rolled lefse, the Scandinavian potato flatbread similar in appearance to a flour tortilla, sits in the center of the table beside sticks of butter and bowls of brown sugar, lefse’s usual dressing.

Lutefisk is a polarizing dish, even among those at the dinners.

“I won’t touch the stuff. My wife was the Norwegian one,” says Ed, who has come to Lakeview’s dinner for a decade or more. “I like to come, though. And I really like the lefse!”

In the wrong hands, lutefisk can turn into slimy glop. For the haters, there’s always meatballs, a hand-rolled peace offering for mixed marriages of Scandinavians to spouses of different ethnic heritages, and for those with Scandinavian blood who object to lutefisk’s texture and intense odor.

The plaintive question frequently asked of lutefisk lovers: “If it’s so good, why don’t you eat it more than once a year?”

“Lutefisk is the substance you love to hate,” writes Roy. “It’s a rich substance for jokes, and for these reasons, it holds an interesting spectrum of appeal that varies from the cherished to reviled.”

Image by Courtesy of Kyle Nabilcy / Flickr. Today, Scandinavians rarely eat lutefisk. Far more lutefisk is consumed in the United States, much of it in church and lodge basements. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Kyle Nabilcy / Flickr. Lutefisk is both a delicacy and a tradition among Scandinavian-Americans. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Kyle Nabilcy / Flickr. When lutefisk is on the menu, the parking lot fills up early at Lakeview Lutheran Church in Madison, Wisconsin. (original image)

That notorious smell has improved in recent years, however. Modern processing methods, including enclosed commercial kiln dryers and the refinement of lye, make for better smelling—or at least less smelly—fish. The lye does leave a distinct ashy taste that butter helps mask. Still, few people make lutefisk from scratch at home anymore, preferring instead to purchase it vacuum-packed from the store. Those searching for the smelly scent memory of old, however, can still find it at Ingrebretson’s Scandinavian Foods, a Minneapolis institution that hosts an annual lutefisk tasting, where shoppers can buy dried fish to soak themselves. There aren’t too many takers.

No one is quite sure where and when lutefisk originated. Both Swedes and Norwegians claim it was invented in their country. A common legend has it that Viking fishermen hung their cod to dry on tall birch racks. When some neighboring Vikings attacked, they burned the racks of fish, but a rainstorm blew in from the North Sea, dousing the fire. The remaining fish soaked in a puddle of rainwater and birch ash for months before some hungry Vikings discovered the cod, reconstituted it and had a feast. Another story tells of St. Patrick’s attempt to poison Viking raiders in Ireland with the lye-soaked fish. But rather than kill them, the Vikings relished the fish and declared it a delicacy. It makes for a great story if you don’t mind the fact that Patrick lived centuries before the Vikings attacked Ireland.

Whatever its origins, Scandinavians have eaten lutefisk for centuries. Preserved cod provided protein during the long winter months for generations of families in a part of the world with a strong tradition of fishing. Lye was used for making soap and preserving food. It was easily prepared in the kitchen by boiling wood ash from beech or birch in water and straining the result. Lutefisk first appeared in Norwegian literature in 1555 in the writings of Olaus Magnus, who describes its preparation and proper serving method: lots of butter.

Despite its long history in Scandinavia, though, lutefisk has fallen out of favor now that few people need to preserve food to last all winter. In fact, the Norwegian national dish isn’t lutefisk or even fishbased; it’s farikal, a lamb and cabbage casserole.

“You see some lutefisk in Norway but you’ll find many people who’ve never had it. There’s just not the lutefisk culture in Scandinavia that exists here,” says Eric Dregni, a Minnesotan who spent a year in Norway and wrote the book In Cod We Trust: Living the Norwegian Dream about his experiences. “It’s the immigrants that have kept this going and turned it into a community event.”

Andrine Wefring at the Culinary Academy of Norway in Oslo agrees. “People still eat it, usually at Christmas, and you can find it in some restaurants in the winter. But church dinners? No, that doesn’t happen here,” she says.

Poverty and the collapse of traditional farming practices led more than 950,000 Norwegians to leave their homes for America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Only Ireland experienced a greater exodus relative to the size of its population. Lutefisk, the food of poor Scandinavians, came to the United States with its immigrants. Today, there are nearly as many Americans with primarily Norwegian heritage as there are citizens of Norway, about 4.5 million people. And many of the immigrant descendants crave some connection to their Nordic past, even one that jiggles and seems to repel more than it appeals.

“It’s a symbol of solidarity,” says Hasia Diner, a professor of immigration history at New York University. “Foods like lutefisk could have been markers of poverty in the past, but by eating them in the more prosperous present, they serve to remind consumers where they came from and how far they have come.”

Professor Diner notes that it’s common for subsequent American-born generations to find these immigrant foods offensive. “Some individuals may find them disgusting, but they still offer markers of past authenticity,” she says.

So perhaps the nauseating aspects of lutefisk are also part of its appeal to Scandinavian-Americans: Eating dried cod cured in lye feels counterintuitive enough to forge a real connection to the practices of their ancestors.

Volunteers at Lakeview Lutheran cooked up 1,000 pounds of lutefisk for the November 4 dinner. They also rolled and grilled 235 dozen sheets of lefse, a labor-intensive process that began in the church kitchens in September. The lutefisk dinner, now in its 60th year, attracts nearly 1000 people to the table. Proceeds support the church’s outreach and mission work.

“It’s a ton of work to pull this off every year,” says Dean Kirst, pastor of Lakeview Lutheran. “But it helps us remember there was a time when our European ancestors struggled and suffered a lot even if we’re in more prosperous times now.”

It’s not all Scandinavians at the dinners. Pastor Kirst runs to the fridge to get a bottle of soy sauce for a Chinese-American woman who prefers her lutefisk with an Asian flair.

Even in the United States, the future of these dinners is uncertain. As the immigrant generation grows more remote from its roots, lutefisk consumption has declined. Those who love it tend to be those who grew up eating it, which is happening less and less. To tap younger eaters at home and abroad, in 2001 the Norwegian Fish Information Board launched a promotion to brand lutefisk as an aphrodisiac using a slogan that roughly translates as “Lutefisk lovers love more.” Olsen Foods in Minneapolis also markets a lutefisk TV dinner for the busy working family.

Pastor Kirst has seen a decline in attendance at his church’s lutefisk dinner. “People just don’t have the time they used to to devote to pulling off the dinner, and our membership is changing,” he says.

But among the traditional, lutefisk remains a cherished part of the holiday season. Many will travel from church to church throughout the fall and winter to get their fill of lutefisk, history and good Scandinavian cheer.

“It’s the combination of good food—we make good fish here—and tradition,” says Walstead. “I hope it never stops.”

Erika Janik is a writer and radio producer based in Madison, Wisconsin. She wrote for about salamanders that refuse to grow up.

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.

Genghis Khan’s Treasures

Smithsonian Magazine

Of all the wonders in The Palace of the Great Khan, the silver fountain most captivated the visiting monk. It took the shape of “a great silver tree, and at its roots are four lions of silver, each with a conduit through it, and all belching forth white milk of mares,” wrote William of Rubruck, a Franciscan friar who toured the Mongol capital, Khara Khorum, in 1254. When a silver angel at the top of the tree trumpeted, still more beverages spouted out of the pipes: wine, clarified mare’s milk, a honey drink, rice mead – take your pick.

The Khans had come a long way in just a few decades. Like the rest of his fierce horsemen, Genghis Khan – whose cavalry pounded across the steppe to conquer much of Central Asia – was born a nomad. When Genghis took power in 1206, Mongolian tribes lived in tents, which they moved while migrating across the grasslands with their livestock. As the empire continued to expand, though, the Khans realized the need for a permanent administrative center. “They had to stop rampaging and start ruling,” says Morris Rossabi, who teaches Asian history at Columbia University. So in 1235, Genghis’s son, Ogodei, began building a city near the Orkhon River, on the wide-open plains.

“It was as if you put Venice in Kansas,” says Don Lessem, producer of a new Genghis Khan exhibit touring the country now.

The ruins now lie beneath sand and scrubby vegetation, but lately there’s been renewed interest in Khara Khorum. A book of new scholarship, “Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire,” coming out in June details major finds that archeologists have made in recent years, which shed light on what life was like in the city as the Mongols transitioned from raiders to rulers. The traveling exhibit, at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Texas through September 7, 2009, and then at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science for three months starting October 10, 2009, will showcase some of those artifacts for the first time on American soil.

Now archaeologists who’ve worked on the site believe that they might have located The Palace of the Great Khan, home of the fabled silver fountain.

The name Khara Khorum means “black tent,” Rossabi says. Surrounded by tall mud walls, The Mongol capital rose up out of the blank plains.

“It wasn’t Cairo, but people compared it to European cities,” says William W. Fitzhugh, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Natural History and a co-editor of the new book.

People of many nationalities walked its warrens of narrow streets: Chinese, Muslims, even a lone Frenchman -- Guillaume Boucher, the goldsmith who designed the fountain. Many of these foreigners lived in Khara Khorum involuntarily, conscripts from conquered cities. The city layout reflected their diversity: there were mosques, “idol temples” and even a Nestorian Christian church. Archaeologists have found Chinese-style tiles and turret decorations that probably adorned the roofs of buildings.

Khara Khorum was also a trade center and goods from far and wide have been recovered there: silver Muslim coins, pieces of Chinese pottery. The Texas show includes an obsidian mask that likely traveled to Khara Khorum all the way from Egypt, Lessem says.

Image by Courtesy of the Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. This Pharaoh’s mask made of obsidian likely traveled to Khara Khorum all the way from Egypt, according to the curator of a traveling exhibit about Genghis Khan. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of the Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. One of the riches found at Khara Khorum, this gold alloy bracelet dates from the 14th century. It is decorated with a phoenix flanked by demons. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of the Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. This decorative lion dates from the 14th century. Thirteen-and-a-half centimeters in height, the porcelain sculpture was found in an archaeological dig at Khara Khorum. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of the Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. The traveling exhibit about Genghis Khan, currently at The Houston Museum of Natural Science in Texas, showcases some of these artifacts for the first time on American soil. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of the Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. Khara Khorum was also a trade center and goods from far and wide have been recovered there: silver Muslim coins, pieces of Chinese pottery. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of the Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. Dating from the 13th century, this porcelain plate is among the many artifacts found at the Khara Khorum site. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of the Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. A glazed-ceramic jar was found with depictions of the Greek god Mercury on it, suggesting that the Mongols traded with cultures far beyond central Asia. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of the Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. This cast copper mold would have been used to make a bracelet in the 14th century. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of the Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. This blue plate is from the Song or Yuan dynasty and was discovered in the ruins of Khara Khorum. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of the Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. As the empire continued to expand, though, the Khans realized the need for a permanent administrative center, which is what spurred the construction of Khara Khorum. (original image)

The Mongols didn’t have strong artistic tradition of their own but loved beautiful objects and often spared vanquished craftsmen in order to put them to work. Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of glass-working and bone-carving workshops. “We found relics of the craftsmen’s quarters and firing places and iron and metal artifacts,” says Ernst Pohl, a German archaeologist who spent years excavating the site. His team discovered a gold bracelet decorated with a phoenix flanked by demons that had apparently been made in the city.

Just as they were inspired by the cities that they conquered, the Mongols were influenced by the Chinese and Arab civilizations that they absorbed.

“Nomads are not dogmatic,” says Bill Honeychurch, a Yale University archaeologist. “They had the idea that you can learn from people you’ve brought into the fold.” From these pieces the Mongols forged a culture of their own. “They didn’t just adopt, they synthesized and acquired, and the end result was something unique and different.”

As it turned out, Khara Khorum was a less than ideal site for a city. “There wasn’t sufficient food or resources,” Rossabi says. Five hundred carts of supplies were brought in each day to feed a population that grew along with the empire, which by the mid-thirteenth century would stretch from Hungary to the shores of the Pacific. Genghis’s grandson, Kublai Khan, eventually moved the capital city to Beijing and built a summer palace at Shangdu -- the “stately pleasure dome” of Samuel Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” poem.

“You can’t rule a population of 75 million from Mongolia,” Rossabi says. “Kublai was trying to ingratiate himself with the Chinese, playing down the foreignness of his dynasty to win over his subjects.”

Khara Khorum began to fade, although the Khans periodically returned to the city on the steppe. After the Mongols were expelled from China in the fourteenth century, they briefly made the city their center again; in 1388 the Chinese obliterated it. The site remained important to various Mongol clans and in 1586 Abtaj Khan built a large Buddhist monastery there.

The Palace of the Great Khan, archaeologists now think, lies beneath the remains of this complex, much of which was destroyed by Mongolia’s Communist leadership in the 1930s. Its silver fountain may never be recovered, but to historians the real fascination of the Mongols’ city is that it existed at all.

“It is kind of amazing that they conceived of, or accepted, the idea of setting up a permanent structure,” Rossabi says. If the Khans hadn’t “moved toward having an administrative capital, the empire wouldn’t have succeeded so readily.”

5 Smithsonian Scientific Research Projects Shut Down by the Shutdown

Smithsonian Magazine

Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

As we reach day nine of the federal shutdown, it’s widely known that all 19 of the Smithsonian Institution’s museums are closed to the public due to the furloughs of all non-essential federal employees.

What’s less often discussed, though, is the fact that the Smithsonian is also an international research organization that employs hundreds of scientists—and consequently, the shutdown has impacted dozens of scientific projects across the U.S. and in far-flung locations around the world. Interrupting this work for even a short-term period, scientists say, can have lasting effects down the road, as in many cases, projects may have to be started anew due to gaps in data.

Because of the furloughs, many researchers and other personnel are unreachable (some may even face penalties for merely checking their e-mail), so collecting information is difficult. But here’s a partial list of Smithsonian research projects interrupted by the ongoing shutdown:

Paleontological Fieldwork

Paleontological work that involves 3D scanning of whale and other marine mammal fossils in Chile has been put on hold. Image via Nick Pyenson / NMNH

Nick Pyenson of the Natural History Museum has conducted fieldwork on every continent except Antarctica, excavating ancient fossils to understand the evolution of modern marine mammals. As part of his team’s current project, in Chile, they’re 3D scanning a particularly rich site that includes whale, penguin and seal fossils so scientists worldwide can study the digital data.

But last week, that work was abruptly halted. “The Smithsonian is closed, due to a federal government #shutdown. All Pyenson Lab social media, including coverage of the ongoing joint UChile expedition, will be suspended starting 12 pm EST (noon) today (1 Oct),” Pyenson wrote on Facebook. “Also, all federally funded Smithsonian employees are forbidden, under penalty of a $5,000.00 fine and up to 2 years in a federal prison, from logging into their SI email accounts. I will be out of contact until the federal government reopens.”

In 2011, Pyenson’s crew discovered a set of ancient whale fossils in the path of the Pan-American Highway and excavated them just in time. There might not be any looming highway projects currently, but leaving these precious fossils exposed to the elements still poses an enormous risk to their scientific value.


The Very Long Baseline Array, a group of telescopes used by Smithsonian researchers, was shut down last week. Image via Wikimedia Commons/Cumulus Clouds

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which partners with Harvard to operate and analyze data from dozens of astronomical telescopes, located both on the ground and in space, has managed to keep most of its facilities operating thus far. “You have to shutter federal buildings, but some of these aren’t technically federal buildings,” says David Aguilar, an SAO spokesman, noting that many telescopes, such as those at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Arizona, are shared with local universities and are still staffed by skeleton crews comprised mostly of non-federal employees.

Many SAO researchers, though, depend on data that comes from a range of non-Smithsonian telescopes that have already been shut down. This group includes radio astronomer Mark Reid, who conducts research with the Very Long Baseline Array, a group of telescopes operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory that stretches all the way from Hawaii to New England and was closed last week. “This is really bad,” he told Science. “If they don’t operate the telescopes, it could mean a year’s worth of data becomes useless.”

Animal Research

Research into animal behavior and genetics at the Zoo and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute has been halted. Image via the National Zoo

At the National Zoo, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, and various research sites around the world, staff has been stripped down to the minimum level necessary to care for animals—and that means all of the research into how these animals behave and how their bodies function has been shut down.

“All of the scientists, with very few exceptions, have been furloughed,” says Steve Monfort, director of the SCBI. “So everything is shut down. All of our labs are closed, and dozens of projects have been put on hold.” This includes the Zoo’s endocrinology lab (which provides crucial services to dozens of zoos across the country to help them breed elephants and other animals) and the genetics lab (which analyzes biodiversity to sustain severely endangered species on the brink of extinction). “We’re pretty much dead in the water, as far as ongoing science work,” he says.

Additionally, some of these projects are conducted in some 35 different countries annually, so travel arrangements and international collaborations—such as a trip to China to study pandas and a Zoo team’s research into emerging infectious animal diseases in Uganda—have been delayed or cancelled.

Curator Research

“What the public sees when we put on displays is only the tip of the iceberg,” says David Ward, a curator at the National Portrait Gallery, which opened the (briefly) acclaimed exhibition “Dancing the Dream” the day before the shutdown. “There’s a tremendous amount of day-to-day work and research necessary to keep everything going, and we can’t do it right now. It’s very frustrating.”

Apart from designing exhibitions—a whole host of which will likely be delayed in opening, including the Sackler Museum’s exhibit on yoga in historic Asian art, the Hirshhorn’s “Damage Control,” a much-anticipated exhibition on the theme of destruction in contemporary at, and the American Art Museum’s “Our America” exhibition on Latino art—curators conduct research to expand knowledge in their fields. This work, too, has been interrupted by the shutdown.

Kristopher Helgen, the Natural History Museum curator and biologist who announced the discovery of the olinguito species to great fanfare in August, announced on Twitter today that he “had to turn away mammalogists from Oz, NZ, S Africa, Brazil, etc. Long way to come to find the collections closed.”

Other Research

Because the majority of Smithsonian researchers and curators are furloughed and out of contact, what we currently know about interrupted science is only a small measure of the total effects of the shutdown. “I don’t have much information because, scientists are largely furloughed and silent,” says Kirk Johnson, director of the Natural History Museum. “The real impact of this will emerge once the lights are back on.”

Exploring the World’s Most Imperiled Rivers

Smithsonian Magazine

River Rafting through the Grand-Canyon

Canyon walls tower above river rafters in the cathedralesque Grand Canyon. Traveling by raft may be the most enjoyable and easiest way to explore the Colorado River, one of the most threatened rivers. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Gran Canyon NPS.

The classic film Deliverance immortalized the American tradition of canoes, river canyons, guitars and banjos—but less remembered from the film, and the novel that preceded it, is its very premise: Four men were out to see one of Appalachia’s last free-flowing rivers—the fictional Cahulawassee—months before a scheduled dam project forever disrupted its flow. This fate, or something similar, has befallen most major river systems on earth—and though we often lament their loss, we continue to dam, divert or otherwise mar or destroy our last remaining wild rivers. But a few untamed giants remain, like the Amazon, the Arctic-bound Mackenzie, the Yukon of Alaska and Canada and the Lena of Siberia, one of the longest rivers in Asia. Even a dammed river can remain an enduring symbol of its landscape, as do the extensively developed Mississippi and the Nile. But such hydro-developed rivers may face other threats, especially overuse of their waters, which can eliminate a river entirely. Even that soul of the American desert, the Colorado River, is reduced to a pitiful trickle as it enters its own delta, in Mexico. Following are six of the most beautiful but most threatened rivers worth seeing while they still flow.

The Salween

Ceremonial boat on the Salween River

A ceremonial boat on the Salween River. Photo courtesy of Flickr user International Rivers.

Length: 1,749 miles.
Discharge: 172,200 cubic feet per second.
Main threat: Planned hydroelectric development.

This Southeast Asian river’s days of unfettered youth and unbridled flow are probably numbered—for big plans are in store for the Salween. This mighty system begins as a Himalayan dribble almost three miles high in Tibet and, eventually, empties as a jungle-brown behemoth into the Andaman Sea in Burma. Though the Salween is currently a free-flowing river from source to sea, that is almost certain to change. China has plans to build 13 dams on the Salween, while Burma has long been discussing installation of several hydro projects. Though construction activity has been stalled for years, it seems probable that the Salween is fated to become a long escalade of concrete walls and reservoirs. In February 2013, the state government approved the construction (PDF) of six planned dams, which have generated huge civilian opposition and are the crux of a brewing eco-socioeconomic battle. Opponents to the projects have dispersed anti-dam petitions and even attacked survey teams scouting the dam sites. If you have plans to visit Burma, float the Salween now, before dams mandate laborious portages and before the villages along its shores are drowned. Boat tours can be arranged through many travel services, while some visitors explore the Salween’s course via bicycle.

The Danube

Melk, Austria seen from the Danube River

On the Danube above the town of Melk, Austria. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Joiseyshowa.

Length: 1,776 miles.
Discharge: 229,000 cubic feet per second.
Main threat: Pollution, development of adjacent lands and development of the river as a shipping channel.

Europe’s second-largest river after the Volga, the Danube is remarkable for the many cultures it touches, and the many borders it crosses, en route from the Alps to the Black Sea. The Danube has been characterized as dividing, uniting and defining Central Europe. So said Guy Raz, an NPR reporter who traveled the length of the Danube in 2002, documenting as he went its history, current culture, ecology and future. The river’s source is in the Black Forest of Germany,while it gains much of its volume from the Alps. It’s a fine way for a river to begin—but things get complicated for the Danube the more countries it touches. Government conservation efforts may be hampered by the Danube’s very diversity—for the river, which the World Wildlife Fund has called the “most international river in the world,” literally absorbs the direct runoff of 18 countries—including the war-scarred Balkan nations and the industrial landscapes of parts of Poland, Germany and Hungary. Named in 2007 as one of the ten most threatened rivers in the world, the Danube offers a variety of beautiful trip opportunities. People may cycle tour the length of the river, traveling as they go either through or near Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and many more nations. Or they may walk the gentle valley of the Danube, among vineyards and orchards, past Transylvanian castles and through great cities like Belgrade, Budapest and Vienna. Or they may explore this great river by boat.

The Sacramento

Mossbrae Falls flowing into the Sacramento River

Mossbrae Falls flowing into the Sacramento River. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Eric Leslie.

Length: 382 miles.
Discharge: 23,490 cubic feet per second.
Major threat: Overuse of water for agriculture, which threatens salmon and other fish species.

Though hardly more than a stream when compared with recognized river giants, the Sacramento is economically and ecologically one of the most important watersheds in America. It enters the sea as grandly as a river can—past San Francisco and under the Golden Gate—while far upstream, the Sacramento’s waters provide habitat for the most southerly and one of the largest West Coast populations of Chinook salmon, which migrate upstream to spawn each year. The river’s water also feeds much of California’s agriculture industry, which in turn helps feed much of the world. Just one major barrier—the Shasta Dam—blocks the path of the Sacramento, and adventurers wishing to canoe or kayak this stream have at least two options: They may take the arguably wilder and more scenic route and paddle the upper branch, which passes among the beautiful volcano country of Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta. Or they may put in somewhere downstream of Lake Shasta and float the “Lower Sac,” through almond and walnut groves, past expansive rice fields, through California’s capital city of Sacramento, and, finally, into the river’s delta. The Sacramento is already heavily tapped, but controversial plans to build a “peripheral canal” to feed local and distant agriculture could severely impact the already struggling fisheries of the Sacramento, and many conservationists fear the Sacramento and its salmon will not last the century.

The Murray

The Murray River seen from a tower in Renmark, Australia

The Murray River seen from a tower in Renmark, Australia. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Emil Melgaard.

Length: 1,476 miles.
Discharge: 27,086 cubic feet per second.
Main threat: Dwindling fish species and overuse of water.

Australia’s longest and most massive river, the Murray flows from the Australian Alps southeastward and into the Southern Ocean near the city of Adelaide. Like nearly any river in a dry and thirsty land, the Murray is a critical life source—both for native fish and wildlife, like the barramundi, dolphin and the man-size Murray cod, and for local agriculture, including southern Australia’s famed wine industry. Though dams and locks cross the river at numerous places, the Murray is nonetheless a popular destination for paddlers—some of whom may float the entire river. The Murray is a gentle waterway, broad and slow for much of its length, and is relatively welcoming to novice river paddlers—though it does have a few whitewater sections. The future of the Murray is in question. The river’s flow is naturally erratic, and in dry years it has failed entirely to reach its end. As demand for the Murray’s water grows, climate change is expected to become a major stressor on this threatened river.

The Colorado

The Colorado River near Lee's Ferry

The Colorado River near Lee’s Ferry, AZ. Photo courtesy of Flickr user StormeTX.

Length: 1,450 miles.
Discharge: 21,700 cubic feet per second.

A classic “exotic stream,” in which a river’s water originates almost entirely in lands far upstream, the Colorado begins in the Rockies but is famed as a symbol of the American desert. The river has famously carved its course deep into the copper-colored earth of Utah and Arizona, creating deep, steep canyons, including the Grand Canyon. The river’s outlet is technically and historically in Mexico, where a vast delta of braided streams once entered the northern reaches of the Sea of Cortez, supporting such species as the spectacular but now severely depleted totuava, a 200-pound ocean fish that once spawned in huge numbers in the Colorado Delta region. However, the Colorado scarcely—if at all—reaches its end anymore, most of its flows being withdrawn for use by some 40 million people. Some of the Colorado’s water is actually pumped out of the river’s drainage boundaries and into California for agricultural use in the desert. Other portions are used to water lawns and fill desert swimming pools. The best ways to experience the Colorado are by canoe or raft—though certain sections of the river feature dangerous rapids. Another option is to hike into the Grand Canyon—and remember: Bringing along stringed instruments is a fine tradition, but picking out “Dueling Banjos” by the riverbank is an exhausted musical cliché. Pick another song.

The Mackenzie

The Mackenzie River near Fort Simpson, Northern Territories, Canada

The Mackenzie River near Fort Simpson, Northern Territories, Canada. Photo courtesy of the Fort Simpson Chamber of Commerce.

Length: 2,637 miles to head of Finlay River.
Discharge: 349,968 cubic feet per second.
Main threat: Possible hydroelectric development.

The Mackenzie drainage system receives the precipitation from almost 20 percent of Canada’s land area and abuts that of the Yukon River, the Fraser, the Columbia and the Churchill. Measured from the head of the Finlay River, the Mackenzie is one of the longest rivers in the world. However, many people—and canoeists—discuss the Mackenzie only in terms of its main branch, an un-dammed 1,000-mile run that flows north out of the massive Great Slave Lake. This river’s remote location has made it largely immune to many of the threats that have affected other great rivers—and almost certainly, the Mackenzie is one river system that will never dry up at the doings of people. And while the Mackenzie itself remains un-dammed, several hydroelectric projects have been built on its tributaries and there is growing interest in tapping into the energy of the Mackenzie’s main stem. Still, the Mackenzie drainage offers among the greatest wilderness experiences left on earth. Probably the best option is to let the river do the work and float downstream via canoe, raft or kayak. Where to start is the question. Some adventurers may start on the South Nahanni, while others may tackle the Mackenzie beginning at Great Slave Lake, a roughly month-long trip of probable bear encounters, wild camping and excellent fly fishing. Because it may someday be hydro-developed, the Mackenzie has been named among Canada’s most threatened waterways. For now, though, this Arctic giant remains one of the world’s freest, cleanest, wildest rivers.

Why Every Food Lover Should Visit the Twin Cities

Smithsonian Magazine

Let's talk about the sweet potatoes at Young Joni. How they're blackened like campfire marshmallows, the insides all gooey and sweet. How they're spiked with gochugaro and topped with barely-there ruffles of bonito flakes. And, underneath it all, clinging to the plate, an enlightened schmear of crème fraîche and smoky charred scallions.

And, sure, let's talk about how the mushrooms are freakishly juicy — water-balloon juicy — because they're confited in olive oil before they hit the grill. Or how my favorite of Minnesota's embarrassment of lakes is the miniature one made of chestnut-miso butter pooled beneath those plump mushrooms.

We could talk this way about a lot of what's coming off the wood fire at this handsome Korean-ish pizza-and-other-stuff restaurant in the artsy, low-slung Minneapolis neighborhood of Northeast. But I'm inclined not to belabor the thesaurus-taxing explications and dutiful prepositions of the professional food describer (this thing atop that one, and a dollop of something else) and just say it directly: this stuff is really good. Get here and eat it if you can. Even if that means strapping on a pair of cross-country skis and braving the whiteout of a freak spring blizzard, as it did for some undeterred Young Joni devotees just before I visited in late April.

"I want you to walk in here and feel like the restaurant is giving you a big hug," said Ann Kim, chef-proprietor of the two-year-old establishment, who also runs Pizzeria Lola and Hello Pizza, in Southwest Minneapolis. Call it Korean-Midwestern hygge. Call it the embrace of fire and spice by an often-freezing city newly hip to the multidimensional tastes of its increasingly diverse populace. Call it the embodiment of quirky, cosmopolitan Minneapolis, St. Paul's ever-so-slightly showier younger sibling. Whatever it is, it's working. The place was packed to the wood-beamed rafters. Guests ordered the amatriciana pizza, a meat-heavy pie called the Yolo, and another topped with fennel sausage, mozzarella, onion, and a dusting of fennel pollen.

Kim grew up in the suburb of Apple Valley in the late 1970s when, it's fair to say, the full spectrum of the Asian pantry had not yet permeated the markets or mindshare of America's Casserole Belt. With her parents working, her grandmother ran and fed the household.

"Every November, we'd help her make enough kimchi to last the year," Kim said. "The only vessel we had that was big enough was our plastic kiddie pool. She'd let the cabbage brine in there, and then, in summer, my sister and I would clean out the pool and swim in it again."

Another pizza served at Young Joni comes topped with arugula and Korean barbecue, which Kim served at Lola as a lark years ago. "For some people, their first experience with Korean food is on top of a pizza pie — I love that."


In 1850, the Swedish novelist Fredrika Bremer toured the territory that eight years later would become a state and declared prophetically: "What a glorious new Scandinavia might not Minnesota become!"

And so, over the next century or so, it kind of did. Swedes and Danes and Norwegians joined Germans, Italians, and other settlers. The power of the St. Anthony Falls was harnessed, and the flour-milling industry blossomed on the shores of the Mississippi River. Minneapolis and its next-door neighbor, St. Paul, grew large and prosperous, and everyone agreed, in their Midwestern, non-braggadocious way, that they were pretty nice places to live if you didn't mind the winter. Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale's presence on the national stage gave the Twin Cities a reputation as a bastion of liberalism, even as they remained mostly white.

The Stone Arch Bridge over St. Anthony Falls, in Minneapolis. (Christopher Testani)

But in more recent decades, the demographics have shifted. The Twin Cities have benefited from a transformative influx of immigrants from Mexico, Korea, and Vietnam, among others. Hmong refugees from Laos and Thailand began arriving in the mid 1970s. Today, there are thriving populations of Somalians, Liberians, and Ethiopians, and a dynamic South Asian community. The state's foreign-born population has more than doubled since the early 1990s.

Sitting at Young Joni's bar, I was joined by Cameron Gainer, an artist and publisher of a literary arts-and-culture quarterly called the Third Rail. Gainer came to town a decade ago from New York, when his wife, Olga Viso, took over as executive director of the Walker Art Center.

"Back then, it was difficult to find anywhere to go after 8:30," Gainer said. "I'd tell people where we'd moved and they'd say, "Oh, Milwaukee's great!"" Now, he explained, living here feels like being at the center of something rapidly expanding and evolving: a vibrant creative class; a community of engaged artists, architects, and chefs. An American city like no other.

From left: The North Loop neighborhood, in Minneapolis; menswear shop Askov Finlayson; the famed Grain Belt sign by the Mississippi River. (Christopher Testani)

Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods and outspoken booster of his adopted hometown, added to the list of reasons to love this place: "Prince was from here. You can swim, sail, or canoe on our lakes — on your lunch hour. We have the Minnesota State Fair, the single greatest party on planet Earth. And we've gone from not having a single oyster bar in town to being a national powerhouse as a restaurant city. All in one generation."

The Twin Cities' pioneering cultural institutions have continued to reinvent themselves. The Walker, which was reclad and expanded in 2005 by Herzog & de Meuron, last year completed a lengthy overhaul of its iconic sculpture garden, adding 18 new works by artists such as Katharina Fritsch and Theaster Gates. The 55-year-old Guthrie Theater unveiled a striking new Jean Nouvel–designed home in 2006, with its Endless Bridge cantilevered out toward the Mississippi. St. Paul's Minnesota Museum of American Art is in the midst of a massive expansion. Also last year, the century-old Minneapolis Institute of Art put on the first major exhibition of contemporary Somalian artwork. Artists have colonized the industrial buildings of Northeast Minneapolis, converting the brick husks into studios and galleries. This dynamic cultural scene is by design: Minnesota ranks second in the nation after Washington, D.C., for per-capita government spending on the arts. "There's a let's-make-stuff vibe that's amazing," Gainer said. "There are opportunities to collaborate, to do things that don't exist yet, like start an art journal or open a Korean pizza joint."

"Give us one fried-chicken sandwich as a garnish, please," Sameh Wadi said. We were wearing plastic bibs and slurping frozen daiquiri slushies at Grand Catch, the bright and buoyant Asian-style Cajun seafood-boil restaurant that he and his brother Saed just opened with Thien Ly, a Vietnamese chef, on St. Paul's leafy Grand Avenue.

Sameh, a Palestinian-American chef and restaurateur with a general air of mischievous merriment, was ordering lunch for the two of us. The sandwich, he emphasized, was a mere palate cleanser to be shared between the main events: copious platters of pungently spiced crawfish, corn, gangly shrimp, and a Dungeness crab the size of a large chihuahua, whose carapace we'd lift and drink from as if it were a sacred chalice filled with brothy crab-innard delights.

He met Thien Ly when a friend brought him to Cajun Deli, Ly's hole-in-the-wall seafood-boil spot in suburban Brooklyn Park. For Sameh, who'd opened and closed a Middle Eastern fine-dining restaurant and moved on to run an eclectic street food truck and restaurant called World Street Kitchen ("burritos with fried rice and curry chicken, shawarma tacos — everything's delicious and makes no sense"), the border-bending Viet-Cajun boil was a revelation.

"It burned my face, but it's so addicting," he said. Returning obsessively for years, he got to know Ly. Eventually, he and the Wadi brothers talked shop and decided to open one.

The bar at Young Joni, a Korean-influenced restaurant in Northeast Minneapolis. (Christopher Testani)

And here we were, bibbed and broth-splattered, drinking pink slushies in coupe glasses in this bright spot on a flush avenue, and there was a neon sign on the wall that read WHAT'S CRACKIN? and crab dip with fermented crab paste and Middle Eastern spices and an ice-cream machine nicknamed Betty Lou that dispensed raspberry-lychee soft serve to help cool the burn. I kept forgetting what state or country I was in — and hoping I didn't have to leave.

I wondered, were the Twin Cities ready for this 10 years ago? "Absolutely not," Sameh said. "Ten years ago, people weren't ready for my white-tablecloth Middle Eastern restaurant with foie gras on the menu. Now people are just game. Now you can go to a Vietnamese restaurant, and they're doing Minnesota walleye in clay pots. It's a gorgeous thing."


"Last week people were so angry!" the chef Gavin Kaysen said with a laugh. Happily, I'd missed the late-season blizzard. The Great Thaw had come to the Cities and nobody seemed angry about anything.

Kaysen's restaurant, Spoon & Stable, is in Minneapolis's North Loop, a fast-changing riverfront neighborhood of broad avenues, where old stables and warehouses are now populated by start-ups and coffee bars. A Minnesota native, Kaysen left for a decade or so to work in Napa Valley and New York City, where he ran kitchens for Daniel Boulud and won a James Beard Award. When he came home in 2014, he had a sense that the city's restaurant scene was ready for its close-up. There's been a line out the door for his impeccable modern American food with regional ingredients (bison tartare with watermelon radishes; birch-smoked cobia; pea-leaf fusilli with lamb and morels) ever since.

From left: Grand Catch, a St. Paul Viet-Cajun seafood spot; Balinese chicken thigh at Hai Hai, in Minneapolis; a sever at Parallel espresso bar. (Christopher Testani)

I met Kaysen and his pastry chef, Diane Yang, a first-generation Hmong-American, at Hmong Village, where we ate chicken wings stuffed with vermicelli noodles and ogled bitter melon vines. I’d arrived at the market with Carolina barbecue sauce on my shirt, slightly sauced myself on Old Fashioneds made with Dr. Pepper syrup and a proprietary bourbon peculiar to the restaurant Revival, in another part of St. Paul. There, I’d received useful instruction from Thomas Boemer in both the proper coloring of North Carolina-style fried chicken (“golden retriever slash labradoodle”) and the subtle differences between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Thomas grew up in the South, but his family is old St. Paul blood. It’s here he and his business partner run a group of Revivals and are opening a gigantic Basque-inspired live-fire restaurant, food market, and event space in the soon-to-be-revitalized Keg & Case warehouse next to the historic Schmidt Brewery in the Bluffs. “You’re not going to see a cat café here,” Boemer said, a subtle dig at flashier, more cosmopolitan Minneapolis which has, in point of fact, just opened its first cat café. “I was going to go, but my wife gave shamed me out of it.”

I mention the barbecue sauce at Hmong Village not just to emphasize that it had been a busy period of eating. (As the hometown hero Prince sang under different circumstances, "Touch if you will my stomach/Feel how it trembles inside.") Taken together, the Twin Cities today are less a New Scandinavia and more a varied, singularly American cultural smorgasbord.

Another thing that's changed is the embrace of winter. Eric Dayton and his brother, Andrew, sons of Minnesota governor Mark Dayton and vocal supporters of modern Minnesota, own the men's boutique and lifestyle brand Askov Finlayson, which has the motto "Keep the North Cold." The Daytons are among those working to rebrand the state as the "North" and reposition its famously cold winters as a point of pride.

Eric recalled a trip to Copenhagen at a time when the global spotlight was on all things Nordic. "I thought we had a lot of the same strengths in our city and our state, yet we were getting written off as flyover country," he says. "We had allowed the rest of the country to tell our narrative for us." The effort started with a line of beanies emblazoned with NORTH. Now Eric is among the leaders of the midwinter Great Northern festival, a 10-day food-and-activity-filled celebration that unites three of the Twin Cities' most popular cold-weather events: St. Paul's winter carnival, a cross-country ski festival, and the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships. (Tagline: "Hockey. The Way Nature Intended.")

What are we getting wrong about this place, I — East Coast outsider, air-dropped in to tell this place's story because we'd heard there was good food and endless cultural diversions — asked, a little sheepishly.

"When I went off for college, people I'd meet would tell me they'd seen Fargo," Eric said. "I don't think we get credit for what a vibrant city this is, the strength of the creative community, the dining scene, and world-class museums. These things get overlooked when it gets lumped in with this catchall idea of the region."

From left: A view along the West River Parkway, in Minneapolis; a croque madame at Parallel, an espresso bar in Minneapolis. (Christopher Testani)

For a sense of the changing face and can-do spirit of the North, head over to artisan glassblowing factory Hennepin Made and Parallel, the sleek espresso bar inside. Jackson Schwartz, a friend of Kaysen's, trained in glassblowing in Australia but came back to make his mark in Minnesota.

"I don't want to compete at a level of what Minneapolis has to offer," Schwartz told me. "I want to compete on an international level. If you walked into this café in Amsterdam or Seattle or wherever, you'd think, Okay, this fits here. This is the place to be. That's the level I want to be at."

Another glimpse of the new can be found at the Hewing Hotel in the North Loop, a recent arrival that has the familiar hallmarks of a hiply converted industrial building (the exposed brick walls, the naked light bulbs), along with bear-patterned wallpaper and framed axes. There's a fireplace in the lobby and a rooftop spa pool that converts to a hot tub in the winter. It's a stylized Paul- Bunyan-goes-to-Brooklyn kind of atmosphere that might feel hokey were the Hewing not housed in a former farm-machinery warehouse, in a city still in touch with its outdoorsy, hunting-fishing-axe-wielding side.

I'd come to the Twin Cities to wander their side streets and waterfronts and to feast on the fat of their land. At Grand Café in South Minneapolis, I feasted, tiny fork in hand, on the fat itself. Described on the menu, simply and weirdly, as "Beef fat slowly roasted in bay leaf," the dish is a lip of fat from a rib eye, gently poached with rosemary and thyme and bay leaf, then rolled and cut and served warmish. Jamie Malone (chef, owner, soft-spoken enabler) had upgraded the situation with caviar that crowned nickel-size disks of opaline fat. On paper, it sounds like comical overkill. In actuality, it's just really nice, understated (if caviar-topped fat can be understated), and suave. Which pretty much sums up this generous, comfortable but not grandly proportioned dining room and everything Malone's doing in it.

Next, because I am an adult and can eat whatever I want even if it kills me, I ordered the Paris-Brest pastry filled with chicken-liver mousse, a recent cover star for this publication's sister magazine, Food & Wine. The choux was crisp, burnished with a glaze made of black honey and luster dust (which sounds like something you'd encounter in the loo of a louche 70s Parisian nightclub, but is actually a product bakers use to make their cupcakes sparkle). Was it good? It's an uppity, sweet, salty, fatty, crunchy, creamy, savory doughnut that's luster-dusted Instagram gold. Bien sûr, it was very, very good.

From left: Lobby décor at the Hewing Hotel, in Minneapolis's North Loop; sturgeon custard in an eggshell at Grand Café, in South Minneapolis. (Christopher Testani)

The Grand Café is descended from a bakery that opened on these premises in 1951. Fifteen years ago it morphed into a café with a neighborhood following and minimal culinary aspirations. When Malone took over last year, she was committed to not sprucing the place up any more than she needed to. The walls are dusky pink, the wood tables uncovered, the tin ceiling hasn't been tended to in a while. The effect of the whole is quietly chic, a captivating, relaxing space that doesn't try too hard to be any one of those things.

"I want people to feel transported. I want it to feel whimsical," Malone said. "And — this is going to sound really stupid — I want you to feel genuinely cared about, because there's a lot of love and respect in this room. Oh, and I want it to feel like a Wes Anderson movie."

"We spritz our pepperoni with red wine," said the server at Pig Ate My Pizza. His T-shirt said SURLY BREWING. His bearing said: Not surly at all. He was earnest and enthusiastic about the spritzing and maybe a little distracted by the cloud of flavored smoke rising off the Morning Maple pizza as he lifted up a cloche with a flourish. This is, by a rather wide margin, the second-looniest place run by Travail Collective, a merry band of chefs and DIY showmen whose flagship enterprise, Travail, serves ticketed, "20+ course" tasting-menu dinners twice a night, Wednesdays through Saturdays.

"It's about disconnecting people from their reality and bringing them together in our reality," said chef and cofounder Mike Brown, of a communal dining style that might include eating off meat hooks dangled above your head, or a vegetable dish choreographed to musical accompaniment by a cello player (Brown's neighbor). One memorable engagement involved, as Brown put it, "a liquid-nitrogen bomb exploding and a person in a rabbit suit running around."

“Oh I remember that,” said Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, affectionately. Dara’s the restaurant critic for Mpls. St. Paul magazine and host of “Off the Menu” on Minneapolis CBS radio. After two pizzas and a gigantic platter of house-made charcuterie at Pig, neither of us had the energy for twenty plus more courses, so we were snacking on a reuben sandwich at Travail’s bar. “I’m talking to a puppeteer and a robotics guy,” Brown went on. “Sometimes an idea like Chuck E. Cheese will just come into our mind and we’ll construct a dish around that.”

I’m not sure animatronic Chuck E. Cheese servers are the future of fine dining, in Minneapolis or anywhere. But I do like talking to Mike. I like his antic schemes and I like the general genuineness with which they seem to be received. The room is full of happy people.

Brown has a theory about why Minnesotans are so earnest and easygoing. Coming back to Minneapolis after a long absence, he recalled, "I stepped off the plane and breathed in this tasteless, smell-less winter air and just thought, Oh, thank god, the great equalizer is here! You kind of have to respect each other for surviving winter here. You have to put up with each other and help them shovel their car out of the snow."

Ahmed, an Uber driver from Mogadishu who picked me up on my way home, agreed. "Winter is hard," he said, "but it keeps the bad people away. That's what they say."

I hadn't heard that said, but it made sense to me. In those last few days of wandering and eating, I hadn't met a single one.

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Why the Universe Needs More Black and Latino Astronomers

Smithsonian Magazine

Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Pedro Villanueva. Anthony Nuñez.

These four names—all recent black and Latino victims of police violence—stare out at a college classroom full of budding astronomers. Written above them on the chalkboard is the now-familiar rallying call “Black Lives Matter.” It's a Friday morning in July, and John Johnson, a black astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has written these words as part of the day’s agenda. Later this afternoon, they’ll serve as a launching point for a discussion about these specific killings and the implications of systemic racism.

It's something you might expect in an African American history class, or maybe a class on social justice. But this is a summer astronomy internship. Most astronomy internships are about parsing through tedious telescope data, battling with an arcane computer language in a basement, or making a poster to present at a conference: skills meant to help you get into grad school. The point of this class, which is made up entirely of African-American and Latino college students, is something very different.

The Banneker Institute is an ambitious new program meant to increase the number of black and Latino astronomers in the field—and to ensure that they are equipped to grapple with the social forces they will face in their careers. Undergraduates from all over the country apply to the Institute, which pays for them to live and work at Harvard for the summer. During the program, they alternate between specific research projects, general analysis techniques, and social justice activism—hence the names on the chalkboard.

Johnson, who studies extrasolar planets and is pioneering new ways to find them, started the program two years ago as a way to open up a historically rarefied, white, male enterprise. In 2013, Johnson left a professorship at Caltech to move to Harvard, citing Caltech’s lackluster commitment to diversity.

His own interest in the topic, he says, came out of the same basic curiosity that drives his research. “I’m really curious about how planets form,” says Johnson, whose research has helped astronomers revise their attitudes about planets around dwarf stars, which are now considered some of the best places to search for life. “The other thing I want to know the answer to is: Where are all the black folks? Because the further I went in my career, the fewer and fewer black people I saw.”

When he looked up the diversity statistics, Johnson became even more convinced: first that a problem existed, and then that something needed to be done about it. Not just for the sake of fairness, but for the advancement of the field.

The big questions at play in the study of astronomy—dark energy, dark matter, the search for life—require an all-hands-on-deck approach, says Johnson. “We have waiting in the wings a good 60 percent to 75 percent of our population in the form of white women, black and Latino and Native people that are ready to bring their cultural experiences to bear on solving the problems of the universe,” he says.

In Johnson’s mind, the right way to think about what greater diversity could do for astronomy is to recall what European Jews did for physics during the early 20th century, once they were allowed to enter the profession. “People were stuck on the problem of gravity and didn’t really know how to think about space-time,” Johnson says. “But this Jewish guy named Einstein rolls up on the scene, and he invents a whole new way of doing music. He did jazz.”

Left to right: John Johnson, Aomawa Shields, Jorge Moreno. (Banneker Institute, Martin Fox, Cal Poly Pomona Department of Astronomy)

Given that America's most recognizable scientist is probably Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a black astronomer, it might come as a surprise to some that the field has a diversity problem. But that’s like pointing to President Barack Obama’s election as proof that America has become a post-racial society. Even Tyson, a peerless success story, openly discusses the obstacles he faced. Upon hearing that he wanted to be an astrophysicist, for instance, teachers asked him why he didn’t want to be an athlete instead.

“The fact that I wanted be a scientist and an astrophysicist was hands down the path of most resistance through the forces of society,” he recalled at a 2009 panel.

Astronomy doesn’t just struggle with diversity; it’s among the worst of all scientific fields. In its professional ranks, astronomers are 90 percent white, about 1 percent black, about 1 percent Latino and 0 percent Native American, according to data from the 2007 Nelson Diversity Survey. If you lump physics and astronomy together, as a 2012 survey did, you get only slightly better ratios: 80 percent white, 2 percent black, 3 percent Hispanic and 1 percent “other.” (The remaining 14 percent of astronomers, according to the survey, are of Asian descent.) 

For comparison, those last three groups, vanishingly rare in departments devoted to unraveling what makes up the universe, comprise about one-third of all Americans. For women of color, the numbers are even more striking. In August, the organization African-American Women in Physics listed 132 black women who have achieved Ph.D.s in any of the disciplines of physics. Ever.

It's not that people of color don’t set out to study the universe, says Johnson. “Black kids are people,” he says, “and when they learn about planets orbiting other stars, they get just as excited, and their faces light up in the exact same way.”

Nor is the issue overt racism, at least not often. Instead, it’s the slow accumulation of discouragement and discomfort on the long trek to tenure, says Jorge Moreno, who researches interacting galaxies at Cal Poly Pomona. While it’s hard to separate out numbers for just physics and astronomy, around 65 percent of black and 49 percent of Hispanic undergraduates who set out to major in STEM fields end up dropping out or pursuing another major, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is arguably the recognizable face in astronomy. He's an exception. (Flickr)

The problem is that black and Latino students see few peers and almost no mentors who look like them, says Moreno, who chairs the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy. “Deep down you feel like maybe I don’t belong here,” he says. One of Moreno’s most cited papers argues that pairs of galaxies don’t just influence one another, but are also shaped by the gravitational tugs of the rest of the universe; it is perhaps an apt metaphor for the experience of young astronomers of color, who find their careers shaped by both their immediate settings and by America's broader discourse on race.

Born and educated in Mexico, Moreno weathered some of those discouragements while he was a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. His white, male classmates thought they were being welcoming. “I remember vividly people saying ‘oh, we don’t really see you as Hispanic, we see you as one of us.’ Which is basically saying my culture or my background is not valid, but hey, you are part of the club,” he says. “It bothered me for many years and I didn’t even know what was going on.”

Moreno stuck with astronomy. But many other students, when faced with these kinds of experiences, choose to enter a more supportive field. Cumulatively, promising students of color trickle out into other disciplines.

Johnson believes the solution is be to stop thinking about “diversity” as adding seasoning to predominantly white departments, and start thinking about assembling a critical mass. So last year, he started cornering students of color at conferences, and inviting them to work with him at Harvard. This year, Moreno joined him to run the program’s Latino arm, called the Aztlán Institute, and Harvard postdoc Nia Imara joined to advise research projects. University of California at Los Angeles astrophysicist Aomawa Shields pitched in with her research acumen and public speaking expertise.

Together, they alternate their classes with critical race theory with research training, having students watch documentary films like RACE: The Power of An Illusion and discuss the works of writers like James Baldwin and Michelle Alexander. Nineteen students showed up this year, hailing from historically black colleges, the Ivy League and other schools across the country. Amid other exercises, Johnson had them figure out why only stars with heavy elements should be expected to have Jupiter-mass planets. Then, on Sundays, he had them all over to his house to play spades.

Fittingly, the Institute is named for Benjamin Banneker, the self-taught surveyor who wrote the Farmer's Almanac series and arguably America's first African-American astronomer. Its logo depicts the North Star, in the geometric style of slavery-era quilts. Johnson hopes that when students leave the program, they'll be armed with a new awareness of race in America and a community of their peers, plus a toolkit for astronomical research. By the time they get to graduate school, the thinking goes, they’ll be so prepared that the hidden obstacles they face won’t deter them from entering the field. 

Johnson knows that one summer program can't undo a long history of systemic exclusion. The subtle—or not so subtle—discouragements will still be waiting to trip some students up. “I can’t prevent it happening to them, but I can help them understand what’s happening, and that helps them take agency over their experience,” he says. With this program, he's trying to at least make sure his students won't face those challenges alone and unprepared.

“Nobody who loves studying the universe should be left to that fate,” he says. “It’s wrong.”

Banneker and Aztlán students. (Courtesy of the Banneker Institute)

The Harvard program, with its explicit focus on social justice, comes at a fraught time for astronomy. Last fall, Buzzfeed’s Azeen Ghorayshi reported that famed exoplanet astronomer Geoff Marcy of the University of California at Berkeley had been sexually harassing female students for years—even as institutional structures shielded him from repercussions. (Berkeley’s chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, just announced he will step down in the wake of the scandal.) 

While awful, these kinds of high-profile stories may at least bring an awareness of the issues women face in astronomy. Since a 1992 conference on women in astronomy in Baltimore, a sustained women’s movement has increased representation within the field. Yet as the Marcy story illustrates, there is still much work to be done. Moreover, Johnson and others argue that what progress has been made thus far has largely served to include white women and not women of color. 

Recently, frank discussions about these issues empowered by Twitter, blogs, Facebook groups, and conference sessions have meant that in many cases, racial disparities are no longer being swept under the rug.

For instance, in Hawaii, some native Hawaiians are fighting the construction of a massive new telescope atop a sacred mountain. When a senior astronomer referred to those protesters as “a horde of Native Hawaiians who are lying,” other astronomers, including Johnson, fired back—forcing an apology and shaping future coverage of the contentious issue. Likewise, when remarks from Supreme Court justices John Roberts and Antonin Scalia questioned the value of black physics students during a key affirmative action trial in 2015, over 2,000 physicists used Google documents to sign a letter arguing the contrary. 

“Maybe we’re beginning to recognize the ways in which we have been doing harm,” says Keivan Stassun, an astronomer at Vanderbilt University. “It’s a question of stopping the harm.”

Stassun has spent the last 12 years leading an effort with parallel goals to the one at Harvard. The Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Program identifies promising students from historically black colleges, and seeks to admit them into Vanderbilt’s doctoral program. In evaluating talent, the program ignores the Graduate Record Exam or GRE, a supposedly meritocratic measure that is used by most graduate schools (and most astronomy departments), and tends to correlate with race and gender (on the quantitative part of the test, women score an average of 80 points below men and African-Americans 200 points below white test takers). 

The program has had stunning results: “We’re now producing somewhere between a half and two-thirds of the African-American PhDs in astronomy,” says Stassun, who has Mexican and Iranian heritage. 

It’s no surprise, then, that when a group of astronomers of color planned the first-ever Inclusive Astronomy Conference in June 2015, they chose Vanderbilt to host. The conference promoted inclusivity in the broadest sense, encompassing race, class, gender and sexuality, disability and any intersections thereof. It concluded by making a series of recommendations, which were ultimately endorsed by the American Astronomical Society (AAS), along with Stassun’s suggestion to drop the GRE cutoff.

It should have been a triumphant moment for astronomers of color. But on June 17, the first night of the conference, national news outlets reported that a white man had opened fire in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The racially-motivated mass shooting killed nine African-Americans. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a University of Washington theorist and prominent activist at the conference, felt that the tragedy offered white astronomers ample opportunity to see their black colleagues' grief—and to express their solidarity.

Yet the AAS remained silent. Prescod-Weinstein says she was surprised and disheartened, given that the organization had spoken out on issues like Marcy’s sexual harassment, sexism and the teaching of creationism in public schools, and eventually approved many other aspects of the inclusivity conference. (A spokesperson for the AAS said that the organization "issues statements only on matters directly related to astronomy in some way.")

As Prescod-Weinstein wrote in an email: “What does it mean for AAS to adopt the recommendations, while still finding itself unable to officially utter the words ‘Black lives matter’?”

Johnson pioneers new ways to find exoplanets. Last year, Aowama Shields reported that this one, Kepler-62f, might have liquid water. (Tim Pyle / JPL-Caltech / NASA Ames)

Back in the classroom at Harvard, everyone’s focus is Aomawa Shields, the UCLA astrophysicist, who is teaching today’s class.

Since 2014, Shields has been modeling the atmospheres of planets around other stars. Recently, she made waves by showing that Kepler 62f, one of the most tantalizing planets found by NASA’s Kepler telescope, could have liquid water—and thus, maybe, life—on its surface. Before her science Ph.D., she got an MFA in theatre. Today, she's using both degrees to explain a public speaking exercise meant to help students reconcile their dual identities as scientists and as human beings in a world impacted by race and other socioeconomic forces.

Following her instructions, the undergraduate astronomy students split into pairs. First they share a story from their personal lives. After two minutes, an iPhone timer goes off, and they switch to technical descriptions of their research, trading college crushes for histograms. When the timer goes off again, they switch back, inducing the whiplash of being a Person and Scientist at the same time—an experience that all scientists grapple with, but that students from underrepresented minorities often find particularly poignant.

After the students have completed the exercise, Shields asks: “Why do you think I had you do that activity?” From across the room, the responses start coming in.

“I feel like I was talking from my brain, and then from my heart.”

“For me it helped connect life and research.”

Then one student describes her trouble coming up with the right analogy to explain a technical process. She's writing computer code to search in the disk of debris around a star, combing for disturbances that would tip off the location of a hidden planet. In other circumstances, Hope Pegues, a rising senior at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, might not speak up. But in this environment, she feels comfortable enough among her peers to make a suggestion.

“Maybe it’s like looking at the back of a CD, to find where it’s skipping,” she says.

Her peers snap their fingers, and she soaks in their approval. “I can go for days,” she says.

Making Cents of Currency's Ancient Rise

Smithsonian Magazine

Sometimes you run across a grimy, tattered dollar bill that seems like it’s been around since the beginning of time. Assuredly it hasn’t, but the history of human beings using cash currency does go back a long time – 40,000 years.

Scientists have tracked exchange and trade through the archaeological record, starting in Upper Paleolithic when groups of hunters traded for the best flint weapons and other tools. First, people bartered, making direct deals between two parties of desirable objects.

Money came a bit later. Its form has evolved over the millennia – from natural objects to coins to paper to digital versions. But whatever the format, human beings have long used currency as a means of exchange, a method of payment, a standard of value, a store of wealth and a unit of account.

As an anthropologist who’s made discoveries of ancient currency in the field, I’m interested in how money evolved in human civilization – and what these archaeological finds can tell us about trade and interaction between far-flung groups.

Why do people need currency?

There are many theories about the origin of money, in part because money has many functions: It facilitates exchange as a measure of value; it brings diverse societies together by enabling gift-giving and reciprocity; it perpetuates social hierarchies; and finally, it is a medium of state power. It’s hard to accurately date interactions involving currency of various kinds, but evidence suggests they emerged from gift exchanges and debt repayments.

Chinese shell money from 3,000 years ago (PHGCOM, CC BY-SA)

Objects that occurred rarely in nature and whose circulation could be efficiently controlled emerged as units of value for interactions and exchange. These included shells such as mother-of-pearl that were widely circulated in the Americas and cowry shells that were used in Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia. Native copper, meteorites or native iron, obsidian, amber, beads, copper, gold, silver and lead ingots have variously served as currency. People even used live animals such as cows until relatively recent times as a form of currency.

The Mesopotamian shekel – the first known form of currency – emerged nearly 5,000 years ago. The earliest known mints date to 650 and 600 B.C. in Asia Minor, where the elites of Lydia and Ionia used stamped silver and gold coins to pay armies.

The discovery of hordes of coins of lead, copper, silver and gold all over the globe suggests that coinage – especially in Europe, Asia and North Africa – was recognized as a medium of commodity money at the beginning of the first millennium A.D. The wide circulation of RomanIslamic, Indian and Chinese coins points to premodern commerce (1250 B.C. - A.D. 1450).

Coinage as commodity money owes its success largely to its portability, durability, transportability and inherent value. Additionally, political leaders could control the production of coins – from mining, smelting, minting - as well as their circulation and use. Other forms of wealth and money, such as cows, successfully served pastoral societies, but weren’t easy to transport – and of course were susceptible to ecological disasters.

Money soon became an instrument of political control. Taxes could be extracted to support the elite and armies could be raised. However, money could also act as a stabilizing force that fostered nonviolent exchanges of goods, information and services within and between groups.

Medieval English tally sticks recorded transactions and monetary debts. (Winchester City Council Museums, CC BY-SA)

Throughout history money has acted as a record, a memory of transactions and interactions. For instance, medieval Europeans widely used tally sticks as evidence for remembering debt.

Follow the money to see the trade routes

In the past, as today, no society was completely self-sustaining, and money allowed people to interact with other groups. People used different forms of currency to mobilize resources, reduce risks and create alliances and friendships in response to specific social and political conditions. The abundance and nearly universal evidence of movement of exotic goods over diverse regions inhabited by people who were independent of each other – from hunter-gatherers to pastoralists, to farmers and city dwellers – points to the significance of currency as a uniting principle. It’s like a common language everyone could speak.

For example, Americans who lived in the Early Formative Period dating from 1450 to 500 B.C. used obsidian, mother-of-pearl shell, iron ore and two kinds of pottery as currency to trade across the Americas in one of the earliest examples of a successful global trade. The Maritime Silk Road trade, which occurred between A.D. 700 to 1450, connected Europeans, Asians and Africans in a global trade that was both transformational and foundational.

Chinese coin from early 1400s found in Kenya by the author (Chapurukha Kusimba)

In my own excavation work in 2012, I recovered a 600-year-old Chinese Yongle Tongbao coin at the ancient Kenyan trade port Manda, in the Indian Ocean. Chinese coins were small disks of copper and silver with a hole in the center so they could be worn on a belt. This coin was issued by Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty. He was interested in political and trade missions to the lands beyond the South China Sea and sent Admiral Zheng He to explore those shores, nearly 80 years before Vasco da Gama reached India from Portugal.

Archaeological discoveries like this one illustrate Africa’s integration into trade interactions in the Indian Ocean. They also show evidence that market economies based on cash moneywere developing at this time. On the East African coast, there were local merchants and kings of the local Swahili who followed Islam and cultivated these external contacts with other Indian Ocean traders. They wanted to facilitate business dealings, while merchants from the Near East and South Asia had their own Rolodexes of business contacts. Coinage was not just a local affair but also a way of leaving a calling card, a signature and a symbolic token of connections.

As the history of money has shown, currency’s impact is double-edged: It enabled the movement of goods and services, migration and settlement amongst strangers. It brought wealth to some, while hastening the development of socioeconomic and other distinctions. The same patterns unfold today with the modern relationship between China and Africa, now more intertwined and unequal than when Admiral Zheng He first brought coins from China in a diplomatic gesture, as a symbolic extension of friendship across the distance separating the two.

In our time, possession of cash currency differentiates the rich from the poor, the developed from the developing, the global north from the emerging global south. Money is both personal and impersonal and global inequality today is linked to the formalization of money as a measure of societal well-being and sustainability. Even as currency continues to evolve in our digital age, its uses today would still be familiar to our ancient predecessors.

Why the Conservation of Orchids Is No Simple Matter

Smithsonian Magazine

Orchids are the ultimate divas of the plant world, and not just the flamboyant ornamental ones favored by florists and horticulturalists. There are roughly 30,000 different species of orchid—more than any other flowering plant family—and some of them are so finicky they will spend a decade or more underground, just waiting for the precise conditions to make an appearance.

Native to a variety of habitats on every continent but Antarctica, they are commonly used in cosmetics and perfumes, and even ground into snack cakes in some parts of the world. Vanilla is an orchid familiar to every baker. Orchids by the thousands are currently on view at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. The annual event, "Orchid Spectrum," presented in collaboration with Smithsonian Gardens, offers rarely seen orchids from the two collections. 

Despite their ubiquity, orchids are extremely vulnerable to habitat loss and over harvesting. Populations are usually small, sometimes just one or two dozen plants, and they live in very limited ranges where they require very specialized pollinators. Orchids that grow in the wild are also fully dependent on fungi to survive early in their life cycle. The complexity of their ecology poses steep challenges to conservationists.

It can take decades to learn what an orchid needs, but some species may not have that long. In the United States and Canada alone, roughly half of all native orchids are threatened in at least some part of their range. That’s why the North American Orchid Conservation Center (NAOCC) is building a national network of repositories to bank orchid seeds and the fungi found in their roots. Their goal is to store the genetic material needed to conserve all of the more than 200 species of orchids native to the U.S. and Canada.

“There are international efforts at seed banking, but few people have focused on orchids, because they don’t know much about their ecology,” says Dennis Whigham, head of the Plant Ecology Lab at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Maryland.

Image by U.S. Botanic Garden. Cymbidium tracyanum (original image)

Image by U.S. Botanic Garden. Dendrobium ceraula (original image)

Image by U.S. Botanic Garden. Cymbidium Baltic dew "freckle face" (original image)

Image by U.S. Botanic Garden. Epicatanthe Volcano Trick "Orange Fire" (original image)

Image by U.S. Botanic Garden. Cymbidium Pierrette "Milk Tea" (original image)

Image by U.S. Botanic Garden. Paphiopedilum haynaldianum (original image)

Image by U.S. Botanic Garden. Rhyncolaeliocattleya Toshie Aoki (original image)

Image by U.S. Botanic Garden. Bulbophyllum echinolabium (original image)

In 2012, Whigham founded NAOCC in collaboration with the U.S. Botanic Garden. They have developed standardized protocols for collecting orchid seeds and roots, and they are working with other groups around the country to establish regional repositories that conservationists and orchid enthusiasts can contribute to.

Their goal is to have collections of every species from each state. Within each state, they want collections from every region where a species grows, because the same species may be associated with completely different fungi depending on its environment.

“Doing this at a national level is what’s really important,” says Kingsley Dixon, foundation director of science at Kings Park and Botanic Garden in Western Australia. With the exception of the Millennium Seed Bank, which aims to preserve seeds from all the world’s plants, orchid seed banks have thus far been run at the state level or independently by universities and botanic gardens.

Melissa McCormick kneels in the forest near a cranefly orchid, Tipularia discolor, that sprouts a single leaf during cold winter months. (SERC)

Dixon says the NAOCC model is a significant step for orchid conservation. He is replicating it in Australia, and working with China, Saudi Arabia and Southeast Asian countries to follow suit. “We want to take it from the sporadic ad hoc approach to a more systematic approach to conserve all orchids in perpetuity,” he says. “It would be great to have a global NAOCC.”

Banking seeds and fungi is just the first step, however. An enormous amount of research remains to make orchid conservation successful. Unlike seeds of other plants, orchid seeds do not contain the nutrition they need to sprout. They get it from fungi.

Many continue to consume fungi through their roots even after they emerge from the ground and begin making sugar through photosynthesis. Some orchids need one species of fungus to sprout and a completely different one to survive as an adult. Some species can live happily off fungi underground for years until something inspires them to emerge from the soil, perhaps another fungus. Still other orchids require fungi only found in living tree roots. Their complexity is why so little is known about them.

Calopogon tuberosus, the grass pink orchid, is an orchid native to eastern North America. Endangered in Illinois, Kentucky, and Maryland, and listed as exploitably vulnerable in New York. (Melissa McCormick, SERC)

“First you have to find the fungus,” says Melissa McCormick, a botanist who works with Whigham in the SERC plant ecology lab, “then you have to figure out what it is, and what it needs to survive, which is of course, what the orchid needs to survive.”

McCormick is isolating the DNA for nearly 800 fungi samples that the lab has cultured from roots collected by NAOCC collaborators. The samples represent about 100 different orchid species from different regions. Because orchids are so specific to their environments, plants of the same species often have different fungi depending upon where they were collected. According to Whigham, 99.9 percent of the fungi McCormick has sequenced so far are new to science.

So much about these plants is new to science. Even after identifying the fungi an orchid requires, getting the seeds to grow in the lab has proven difficult. SERC plant ecology lab’s head lab technician, Jay O’Neill has tried to propagate the federally threatened small whorled pogonia for two decades. Seeds that have lived in a petri dish with its associated fungi for nearly seven years have swollen as if they were about to germinate. But that’s as far as it went. Something must be missing.

Cypripedium acaule, moccasin flower or pink lady's slipper (Melissa McCormick, SERC)

It hasn’t been all bad news, however. O’Neill has successfully germinated half of the ten native species found in the forest at SERC. The team has even introduced one of them, the rattlesnake plantain, into experimental plots in the forest. And like nearly everything else with orchids, wild seeding required the development of a completely new technique. Because they contain no nutrition such as a bean or fruit, orchid seeds are tiny. Tens of thousands of them amount to about a half-teaspoon of dust. To ensure the seeds stay put for as long as it may take to germinate, the lab developed seed packets that can last for years if need be. Their packet technique is now being used all over the world.

Packaging, of course, is only part of it. Divas to the very end, location is paramount to an orchid. “If you’re going to plant orchids, you’re going to want to plant them where the fungi is,” says McCormick. She is now developing techniques for finding target fungi in soil samples. That’s still a work in progress.

Cleistesiopsis divaricata rosebud orchid is native to the eastern and southeastern United States from New Jersey south to Florida, and west to Kentucky and Louisiana. (Melissa McCormick, SERC)

Very few people are aware of the difficulty of conserving orchids and returning them to the wild, or the vulnerability of healthy populations. Commercial orchids sold by florists and in grocery stores are either varieties that can be cultured in a greenhouse with sugar instead of fungi, or they are hybridized to grow without it. Uninformed gardeners and hobbyists frequently assume they can collect an orchid from the woods only to have it die shortly after being dug up.

If scientists could learn to propagate orchids, they could be produced commercially, or grown by home gardeners. “That’s one of our long term goals,” Whigham says. “Once we know how to propagate all the native orchids, then you don’t have to go dig them up to have them in your garden.”

Thousands of orchids are in bloom at U.S. Botanic Garden's annual show, "Orchid Spectrum" presented in collaboration with Smithsonian Gardens, and on view through April 8, 2018.


Calopogon tuberosus_alba is a rare white bloom of the grass pink orchid (Melissa McCormick, SERC)

Global Empire

Smithsonian Magazine

Jay Levenson is the Director of the International Program at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and a guest curator of the exhibition "Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries," opening at the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery in collaboration with the Museum of African Art on June 24.

What was the genesis of this exhibition?

It was really the work I did in the 1492 exhibition for the National Gallery of Art ["Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration," 1992]. We had a section on Portugal, with some extremely difficult loans that took a long time to clear because they were works that hadn't traveled before. By the end of the project we had some very close relationships with Portugal. I always had in mind to go back, because the 1492 show was the world before it came together, but it was during the Portuguese period that first contacts were made. So this was an idea that had been there, and like so many things it took a while to actually reach fruition.

Why is Portugal generally overlooked as a major power in the Age of Discovery?

It's a complete misconception. They got left out, basically. The Spanish voyages were to the New World, and the Spanish voyages to the New World are thought of as part of American prehistory, so they’re closely part of the American school curriculum. There's some coverage of Portuguese voyages down the African coast because that leads to Vasco da Gama getting to India. But it becomes part of Asian history after that, and it drops out of American school curriculum, at least in any detail. It just isn't as well known in this part of the world.

What actually happened was, in a very short period of time, the early 16th century, the Portuguese landed in Brazil and established a network of trading posts around the Indian Ocean, all the way to Macau. Beyond Macau, they got to Japan by the 1540s. They put together this phenomenal network that was less territorial and more commercial—the only sizable land settlements they had were in Brazil. The Portuguese were active in India and the Persian Gulf area, the west and east coasts of India, Japan and China.

Were they the first Europeans to reach Japan?

Yes, in 1543. The first were three traders who were blown ashore, shipwrecked there. The local Japanese were very interested in their guns, because there were no firearms in Japan, but there was very intense warfare. So the Japanese adopted firearms from the Portuguese very quickly.

I was also surprised to learn that Portuguese is the most spoken language in South America. One normally thinks of Spanish first.

Portuguese is the sixth or seventh most spoken language in the world. That's mostly because of the large population of Brazil. It's also spoken in Angola, Mozambique, Portuguese India, East Timor—all of the areas that were part of the Portuguese Empire.

What’s the legacy of the Portuguese Empire?

I think it was bringing people together. It wasn't so much a land-based empire. They didn't have large territorial holdings like the Spanish. They mostly had a network of trading settlements and they had to cooperate with people. They had a certain amount of firepower too, but in Asia and Africa they were dealing with large, established political units so they had to work out accommodations.

What happened in the course of setting up a commercial empire is they also set up a mechanism for the production of new types of art. In Africa, India, Japan and China, the Portuguese were commissioning works of art for the European market. So they really were in the vanguard of creating cross-cultural art as well.

Image by The British Library Board. This world map by German cartographer Henricus Martellus (who lived in Florence, Italy) shows the world as Europe knew it in 1489. Though it reflected many new discoveries, it was largely based on ancient sources, including the maps of Ptolemy, which dated to the second century A.D. In a few years, voyages by Christopher Columbus and other explorers, especially the Portuguese, would change the map considerably. "It's quite see these very vague contours rather quickly turning into the contours that you know from modern maps," says Jay Levenson, curator of "Encompassing the Globe." (original image)

Image by The British Library Board. This illustration, from an early Indian history of Portuguese activities (ca. 1603-1604), shows the drowning of Bahadur Shah, a Hindu sultan, during an on-ship meeting with the Portuguese governor. The Portuguese said that the sultan jumped overboard; Indians insisted that he was pushed. The Portuguese could be "ruthless," says Jay Levenson. "They certainly had no hesitation in battling, capturing people, executing people, setting ships afire." (original image)

Image by Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon, Portugal; Photo: Luis Pavà£o. Three shipwrecked Portuguese sailors were the first Europeans to reach Japan, in 1543. They brought firearms, a technology that the island nation soon adopted. This Japanese gunpowder flask, from the late 16th century, depicts Portuguese men wearing bombachas, or baggy pantaloons, a style of dress that amused the Japanese. (original image)

Image by Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven. When Ferdinand Magellan set out on the expedition that would circumnavigate the globe (1519-1521), he was looking for a route to the Spice Islands, or the Moluccas, now part of Indonesia. Magellan was killed en route, but his navigator Antonio Pigafetta survived. This map, which includes a clove tree, is a from a 1525 French copy of Pigafetta's journal. (original image)

Image by Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon, Portugal. Portuguese King Manuel I (who ruled from 1495-1521), commissioned this Belgian tapestry to commemorate explorer Vasco da Gama's "discovery" of India in 1498. Da Gama is the figure at the left, kneeling before an Indian sultan. In the center, Portuguese sailors load exotic animalsincluding, strangely, a unicorninto their ships, for transport to the Portuguese royal zoo. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Jay Levenson. Jay Levenson is a guest curator of the exhibition "Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries," opening at the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery in collaboration with the Museum of African Art on June 24. (original image)

Were they guilty of the same brutality that we associate with other colonial powers?

They don't have a completely clean record. In the Indian Ocean in particular, the Portuguese governors, the ones who established the empire, they were people of their time, and they were relatively ruthless. It was on a much smaller scale, but they certainly had no hesitation in battling, capturing people, executing people, setting ships afire.

The other complicated part of the story, which we’ve not shied away from in the exhibition, is the slave trade. It preceded the Portuguese, but they became involved in it. Once sugar caught on in Brazil they needed huge amounts of labor. It was really the sugar production in Brazil, and the Caribbean a little bit later, that encouraged large scale slave transport from Africa to the New World. That was the first wave.

This exhibition is very broad. How did you condense and organize it?

We tried to keep the focus really on Portuguese activity, and we tried very hard to tell the story with the minimum number of objects we could. We tried to get the right objects, and there was a huge number of lenders. There was a lot of relevant material, but we tried to restrict it to the minimum amount of works that would tell the story.

What are some highlights of the show?

There's a section on early collections of rarities from around the world. The German expression for these was Kunstkammer, "art chamber." It's a type of private museum that powerful rulers would assemble out of rarities from around the world, to show how rich they were, because these things were very hard to get. These collections have become reasonably well-known, but it's only recently that people started associating them with Portugal because a lot of things in them couldn't have gotten to Europe except through Portuguese channels.

There are Indian works in mother of pearl that were given silver gilt mounts by European craftsmen, and works in tortoise shell and African ivory—we have a hunting horn from the Medici collection. From Brazil we have some early colonial sculpture in terra cotta, which was quite rare. We have life-size paintings of the Brazilian Indians that ended up in the royal collection in Denmark. We have several scientific instruments made for the Jesuits in the palace workshops in Beijing in the 17th century.

The portrait of Afonso de Albuquerque, one of the early Portuguese governors of what they called the State of India, is powerful because you can really get a sense of what resolute and incredibly bold people these early governors were. Portugal is a tiny country. The population is around a million. They never had large numbers of troops to work with, and they were incredibly far away from Portugal. It took a long, long time to go around Africa, and the trip could only be made in certain seasons to catch the prevailing winds of the Indian Ocean. To keep something like that going so far from the mother country with a relatively small number of troops was an amazing achievement.

Were there any objects that were difficult for you to get?

One of the maps, which I hope has gotten there by now. You never know at the last minute! It's an amazing map that I tried to borrow for the 1492 show in 1991, but it wasn't possible then. It's the oldest Portuguese map of the world; it dates from 1502. It was apparently commissioned by the Duke of Ferrara through his agent in Portugal, and it's thought to be a copy of the official royal Portuguese map. This map was smuggled out of Portugal in 1502. It got to Ferrara, [in Italy,] and from Ferrara the family brought it to Modena, [Italy,] and it's been in Modena every since. In the 19th century, there was a riot in Modena, and someone stole the map. A librarian found it two years later in a butcher shop—supposedly it was used as a window screen. In recent years it was sent once to Lisbon for an exhibition and once to Genoa, but it's never traveled to the United States before.

This map is sort of an index of how much Europe knew about the world in 1502. You could almost date it to a particular set of months, because it reflects certain voyages but not others. It's like being back in the world of that time and getting an exact cross section of geographical knowledge.

Did the Portuguese change our view of the world?

In the 15th century the most accurate maps of the world were the ancient maps in Ptolemist geography, which actually dated from the second century A.D. They didn't go down to southern Africa because it wasn't believed to be inhabited, and they showed a land bridge from southern Africa to eastern Asia, as though the Indian Ocean were an enclosed sea. In maps from the later part of the 16th century, you can see that as soon as the Portuguese voyaged anywhere, information would come back. In an amazingly short amount of time you'd get a much more accurate view of the world. It was mostly coasts, because they didn't go very far inland, but they were careful about taking latitude readings, and they did the best they could with longitude, which is harder. It's quite amazing when you look at these maps to see these very vague contours rather quickly turning into the contours that you know from modern maps.

What Happens When an Archaeologist Challenges Mainstream Scientific Thinking?

Smithsonian Magazine

What I remember most about Jacques Cinq-Mars the first time we met was his manner—one part defiance, one part wariness. It was 1994, and I had just flown into the small village of Old Crow in northern Yukon; Cinq-Mars was waiting in the tiny airport. Tall, grizzled, and unshaven, the French-Canadian archaeologist looked every bit the old Yukon hand.

Still fit in his early 50s, he worked as a curator at what is now called the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. But Cinq-Mars lived for summer fieldwork, combing Yukon riverbanks and rock shelters for traces of Ice Age hunters. In three hollows known as the Bluefish Caves, he and his team had discovered something remarkable—the bones of extinct horses and woolly mammoths bearing what seemed to be marks from human butchering and toolmaking. Radiocarbon test results dated the oldest finds to around 24,000 years before the present.

Bluefish Caves directly challenged mainstream scientific thinking. Evidence had long suggested that humans first reached the Americas around 13,000 years ago, when Asian hunters crossed a now submerged landmass known as Beringia, which joined Siberia to Alaska and Yukon during the last ice age. From there, the migrants seemed to have hurried southward along the edges of melting ice sheets to warmer lands in what is now the United States, where they and their descendants thrived. Researchers called these southern hunters the Clovis people, after a distinctive type of spear point they carried. And the story of their arrival in the New World became known as the Clovis first model.

Cinq-Mars, however, didn’t buy that story—not a bit. His work at Bluefish Caves suggested that Asian hunters roamed northern Yukon at least 11,000 years before the arrival of the Clovis people. And other research projects lent some support to the idea. At a small scattering of sites, from Meadowcroft in Pennsylvania to Monte Verde in Chile, archaeologists had unearthed hearths, stone tools and butchered animal remains that pointed to an earlier migration to the Americas. But rather than launching a major new search for more early evidence, the finds stirred fierce opposition and a bitter debate, “one of the most acrimonious—and unfruitful—in all of science,” noted the journal Nature.

Cinq-Mars, however, was not intimidated. He fearlessly waded into the fight. Between 1979 and 2001, he published a series of studies on Bluefish Caves.

When Jacques Cinq-Mars, shown here in the 1990s, tried presenting evidence from Bluefish Caves at conferences, many archaeologists tuned out. Some even laughed. The idea of a pre-Clovis people in the Americas seemed unfathomable to many at the time. (Photo by Heather Pringle)

It was a brutal experience, something that Cinq-Mars once likened to the Spanish Inquisition. At conferences, audiences paid little heed to his presentations, giving short shrift to the evidence. Other researchers listened politely, then questioned his competence. The result was always the same. “When Jacques proposed [that Bluefish Caves was] 24,000, it was not accepted,” says William Josie, director of natural resources at the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow. In his office at the Canadian Museum of History, Cinq-Mars fumed at the wall of closed minds. Funding for his Bluefish work grew scarce: His fieldwork eventually sputtered and died.

Today, decades later, the Clovis first model has collapsed. Based on dozens of new studies, we now know that pre-Clovis people slaughtered mastodons in Washington State, dined on desert parsley in Oregon, made all-purpose stone tools that were the Ice Age version of X-acto blades in Texas, and slept in sprawling, hide-covered homes in Chile—all between 13,800 and 15,500 years ago, possibly earlier. And in January, a Université de Montréal PhD candidate, Lauriane Bourgeon, and her colleagues published a new study on Bluefish Caves bones in the journal PLOS One, confirming that humans had butchered horses and other animals there 24,000 years ago. “It was a huge surprise,” says Bourgeon.

The new findings, says Quentin Mackie, an archaeologist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia who was not a member of the team, are prompting the first serious discussion of Bluefish Caves—nearly 40 years after its excavation. “This report will tilt the scales for some [archaeologists] towards accepting the site, and for some more, it will inspire a desire to really evaluate the caves more seriously and either generate new data or try to replicate this study,” Mackie notes.

This horse mandible, found in Yukon's Bluefish Caves, appears to be marked by traces of stone tools. It might prove that humans came to North American 10,000 years earlier than previously believed. (Lauriane Bourgeon/University of Montreal)

But the study also raises serious questions about the effect of the bitter decades-long debate over the peopling of the New World. Did archaeologists in the mainstream marginalize dissenting voices on this key issue? And if so, what was the impact on North American archaeology? Did the intense criticism of pre-Clovis sites produce a chilling effect, stifling new ideas and hobbling the search for early sites? Tom Dillehay, an archaeologist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and the principal investigator at the Chilean site of Monte Verde, thinks the answer is clear. The scientific atmosphere, recalls Dillehay, was “clearly toxic and clearly impeded science.”


I first came across the research at Bluefish Caves in the early 1990s. As a science journalist, I was working on a book on North American archaeology, and I was curious about what Cinq-Mars and his team had found. I called him up and near the end of the conversation, I inquired about the possibility of traveling to Bluefish Caves, which lay north of the Arctic Circle. A few weeks later, Cinq-Mars invited me along on some helicopter surveying planned for the summer and offered to show me the caves. I booked a ticket to Old Crow.

Cinq-Mars was working out of a small field station in the village, a cabin that backed onto the Porcupine River, whose waters meandered their way to the Bering Sea. He had teamed up that summer with Bernard Lauriol, a geographer at the University of Ottawa, on an environmental study of Beringia. I pitched my tent out behind the cabin and swatted in vain at the dense cloud of Yukon mosquitoes. That night, I lay awake for hours. In the distance, I could hear children laughing and giggling on rooftops in the village, making the most of the midnight sun.

The next morning, Cinq-Mars made coffee and bannock for us, and we headed off to the airport, a pattern we followed for the better part of a week. And each day, as the helicopter lifted off and swung west or north, we left the modern world behind us: In the green below, there were no roads, no pipelines, no mines, no clearcuts. Below us lay unbroken forest, jagged peaks and silvery threads of creeks and rivers, shimmering in the morning light. It was beautiful beyond description, and even now, more than two decades later, I dream at night about those flights, soaring effortlessly over paradise.

Funding for Cinq-Mars’s research at Bluefish Caves eventually trickled to a stop. But in 1997, archaeological finds in Chile began winning over archaeologists to the view that a pre-Clovis people arrived in the Americas first. Twenty years later, in 2017, a Université de Montréal team reported new evidence of a human presence at Bluefish Caves 24,000 years ago, just as Cinq-Mars had contended. (Photo by Heather Pringle)

Some days we stopped in lowland areas, trudging through tussocky tundra or muskeg to get to a sampling site. On others, Cinq-Mars led the way into caves he wanted to check out. As the helicopter pilot waited, we ducked into shadowy entrances and wriggled through narrow passages, looking for traces of red ochre on the walls, or flecks of charcoal on the cave floor. There was no sign of either, but Cinq-Mars wasn’t deterred. He carried a big map in his pack and continually tugged it out to add more notes to the margin.

Finally, the day for Bluefish Caves arrived. Cinq-Mars needed additional measurements of the caves, and had asked an assistant, Stringer Charlie, to help. As the helicopter swept southwest from Old Crow, the three of us gazed out in silence at the forest until Cinq-Mars and the pilot spotted a small limestone ridge rising from the spruce, and dark, shadowy gashes in the rock—Bluefish Caves. Landing nearby, Cinq-Mars, Charlie, and I clambered out with our gear and began hiking up a narrow trail to the first of three small caves.

The ridge looked out on a stunning expanse of lowland and the winding banks of Bluefish River, named after the Arctic grayling that flourished there. Cinq-Mars had first spotted the shallow caves from the air, while helicopter surveying in 1975. Landing briefly, he had taken a quick look inside the shallow caverns. Over the next three years, he and a small archaeological team returned twice, once for 10 days to open a test excavation. The preservation inside the caves was remarkable: The dry, cold environment conserved even fragments of ancient beetles and weevils. And in the sediments, the team found the bones of extinct horses and other large ungulates, as well as ancient stone tools, including microblades—a narrow cutting tool used by Ice Age hunters in Asia.

Encouraged, Cinq-Mars expanded the excavation. And back in Quebec, at the Canadian Museum of History, he worked closely with botanists, entomologists, zoologists and other researchers to analyze the environmental data. It was a heady time. The dig yielded more stone tools, as well as other evidence of human activity—a horse jaw with incisions resembling cut marks, and a mammoth long bone that seemed carefully worked and flaked, as well as a cutting tool made from the bone. Samples from these finds yielded radiocarbon dates as old as 24,800 years ago.

Lying north of the Arctic Circle, Bluefish Caves consists of three small cavities scattered along a limestone ridge. Cinq-Mars thought this was the oldest-known archaeological site in North America. (Photo by Ruth Gotthardt)

As we stood and chatted near the rugged entrance of Cave II in 1994, Cinq-Mars shared his thoughts on what had taken place at the site. During the depths of the last ice age, large carnivores had prowled the ridge, gnawing carcasses in the caves. But from time to time, Ice Age humans had taken shelter there, too. “You can think of a small hunting party stopping in one of these caves for an afternoon, if it was a rainy day or a bad blizzard or a freak storm,” he said.

And he steadfastly refused to budge from the early dates he had published. “I’m now in a position to state that Bluefish Caves represent the oldest-known archaeological site in North America,” he told me.


But relatively few of Cinq-Mars’s peers shared his confidence. And as I began regularly attending archaeological conferences in the years following that trip to Bluefish Caves, I saw what Cinq-Mars was up against. Sitting in halls with Canadian and American researchers, I witnessed what happened when archaeologists presented data that contradicted the Clovis first model. Often a polite bemusement spread through the room, as if the audience was dealing with some crackpot uncle, or the atmosphere grew testy and tense as someone began grilling the presenter. But once or twice, the mask of professional respect slipped completely; I heard laughter and snickering in the room. Tom Dillehay remembers such conferences well. “Some Clovis first people had a suffocating air of defiance and superiority at times,” he says.

In general, the critics focused their attacks on two major fronts. They questioned whether key artifacts at proposed pre-Clovis sites were really made by humans, as opposed to natural processes. And they pored over presentations and reports for any possible errors in dating.

At Bluefish Caves, the crucial evidence consisted of animal bones that were dated to around 24,000 years ago and seemed to be cut, shaped or flaked by humans. So critics focused on those. They dismissed Cinq-Mars’s identification of butchery marks and tools, and offered alternative explanations. Rockfall from the caves, they suggested, had fractured the bones, leaving splinters that merely looked like human artifacts. Or large carnivores had chomped on a carcass, producing grooves that resembled cut marks or fragments mirroring artifacts. Some skeptics even suggested that living mammoths could have taken bad tumbles nearby, accidentally splintering limb bones. Other critics wanted to see multiple lines of evidence for the presence of early humans at Bluefish Caves, including dated hearths with stone tools in close association.

Stung as he was by the criticism, Cinq-Mars refused to back down. None of the explanations for splintered bones, he noted, could account for the complex chain of steps that produced the mammoth-bone flake tool his team found. But by then, serious doubts about the Bluefish Caves evidence had been sown, taking firm root in the archaeological community: Hardly anyone was listening. Cinq-Mars couldn’t believe it. At one presentation he gave, “they laughed at me,” he says angrily today. “They found me cute.” Embittered by the response, he stopped attending conferences, and gave up defending the site publicly. What was the point? To Cinq-Mars, the Clovis first supporters seemed almost brainwashed.

Ruth Gotthardt, a member of the Bluefish Caves excavation team who went on to become a senior archaeologist in the government of Yukon, thinks the scientific community of the day failed to give the Bluefish research a fair hearing. “From what I saw of Jacques’s work at Bluefish Caves, it was good science,” she says, but the burden of proof demanded by most archaeologists for a pre-Clovis site was extreme. “And I think [Jacques] got pretty beat up in the process.”


In January 1997, a dozen North American archaeologists accepted an invitation from Dillehay to fly to southern Chile to inspect the controversial site of Monte Verde. Dillehay and a large interdisciplinary scientific team had studied the site intensively for two decades after its discovery by loggers. Beneath layers of marshy peat some 50 kilometers east of the Pacific Ocean, the team had discovered stone tools, remains of a large hide-covered shelter that may have housed 30 people, communal hearths, chunks of mastodon meat and three human footprints. Dillehay and his colleagues had meticulously dated the oldest human activity at the site to 14,500 years ago. But for years, most North American researchers refused to accept the date. So Dillehay took the bull by the horns, inviting several skeptics and other prominent archaeologists to Monte Verde.

The visitors personally inspected the site, examining the stratigraphy, and they pored over the evidence for days. At the end, all 12 researchers accepted the evidence from Monte Verde, publicly agreeing that humans had reached southern Chile 1,500 years before the Clovis people. It was a moment akin to “aviation’s breaking of the sound barrier,” wrote one New York Times reporter. Soon after, Dillehay and his colleagues published a 1,300-page report on the site, laying out all the details. Eventually, the findings and new research on the first Americans from the field of genetics put remaining doubts to rest. The Clovis first model was dead, and thousands of researchers began rethinking the timing of the earliest migration to the New World and the routes the migrants may have taken.

Important Pre-Clovis Sites

By then, however, Bluefish Caves had been largely forgotten. But in 2012, Lauriane Bourgeon, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the Université de Montréal, decided to take a new look. She began microscopically examining 36,000 bone fragments that Cinq-Mars and his team had excavated. Archaeologists who specialized in the study of old animal bones had developed six criteria for the identification of human cut marks, such as the precise shape of the incision and its trajectory. Bourgeon only accepted a mark as evidence of human butchery if it met all six criteria.

In two years of intensive work, Bourgeon identified human butchering marks on 15 bones from Bluefish Caves. She then took samples from six and sent them off for radiocarbon dating: The results showed that the oldest dated to 24,000 years ago—confirming Cinq-Mars’s original contention. Bourgeon now plans to write about two other key objects that Cinq-Mars found at Bluefish Caves: The mammoth bone flake and the worked bone core it came from. She is not ready to divulge the results of her analysis, but based on her published evidence, she describes Bluefish Caves as “the oldest-known archaeological site in North America.”

The new findings are sparking a lot of talk and serious interest in Bluefish Caves. While some archaeologists remain skeptical, withholding acceptance until they see more traces of early human activity at the site, as well as additional sites in the region dated to this period, others, such as archaeologist Ian Buvit, manager of the Shared Beringian Heritage Program at the National Park Service in Anchorage, Alaska, think Bourgeon has come up with important new evidence. “I am convinced those are human cut marks,” Buvit notes. And the study, he adds, lends support to a relatively new scientific model, the Beringian standstill hypothesis. Based initially on studies of DNA from modern indigenous people, this hypothesis suggests that humans roamed Beringia for thousands of years—even during the depths of the last ice age—before their descendants ventured south to colonize the Americas. “I cautiously accept [the new Bluefish Caves study] as the first evidence of humans in eastern Beringia at the Last Glacial Maximum,” Buvit writes in an email.

Sitting back now, and reflecting on what happened to the original research at Bluefish Caves, Cinq-Mars says the vitriolic debate at the time hindered real progress on important questions related to the peopling of the New World. For the French-Canadian researcher and others, the deep suspicion and skepticism took a serious toll, consigning their research to the dustbin for decades, without a fair hearing. In the case of the original Bluefish Caves work, notes Mackie, “I only had a fairly vague notion of what had actually been found—it was a classic example of enough criticism lowered my motivation to even find out more. I’m not proud of that.”

For Mackie and others, the protracted battle over the Clovis first model now stands as a cautionary tale for archaeologists. Notes Mackie, “Clovis first will, I believe, go down as a classic example of a paradigm shift, in which the evidence for the collapse of an old model is present for many years before it actually collapses, producing a sort of zombie model that won’t die.”

Related Stories from Hakai Magazine:

How Three Amateur Jewel Thieves Made Off With New York’s Most Precious Gems

Smithsonian Magazine

On the night of October 29, 1964, two self-styled Miami beach boys crept onto the grounds of New York City’s American Museum of Natural History while a lookout drove a white Cadillac around the museum’s block of Manhattan. The beach boys were talented, brazen and sure-footed. After scaling a fence to the museum’s courtyard, they scrambled up a fire escape to secure a rope to a pillar just above the fourth-floor windows of the J.P. Morgan Hall of Gems and Minerals.  Clinging to the rope, one of them swung to an open window and used his feet to lower the sash. They were in.

Allan Dale Kuhn and Jack Roland Murphy used a glasscutter and duct tape to breach three display cases, and then a squeegee to gather 24 gems. Their haul included the milky-blue Star of India (the world's biggest sapphire, weighing 563.35 carats); the orchid-red DeLong Star Ruby (100.32 carats, and considered the world’s most perfect), and the purplish-blue Midnight Star (the largest black sapphire, at 116 carats).  Fearing they’d tripped a silent alarm, the pair retraced their steps to the street and caught separate getaway cabs.  “For us, it wasn’t anything,” recalled Murphy, who was better known as Murf the Surf. “We just swung in there and took the stuff.”


The mid-1960s were salad days for jewel thievery. In 1963, when a U.S. gem heist occurred on average every 32 seconds, crooks stole $41 million worth of insured precious and semiprecious stones Cash aside, diamonds were the anonymous currency of a thriving seller’s market. An estimated 3.5 million diamonds of one-third of a carat or more were being sold annually in the United States—but that was well short of demand. Abroad, jet-set Europeans, Arabs and Asians knew that jewels held their value in uncertain times. To grease the gears of this emerging global economy, many seemingly legitimate jewel merchants did double-duty as fences. They asked no untidy questions; routinely melted down precious-metal settings into salable ingots; cut conspicuous gems (or “went going on the break”) to erase their identity, and then blithely intermixed stolen and honest merchandise.

The best jewel thieves were aristocrats atop a three-tiered class structure.  At its bottom was an army of lowly criminals who committed perhaps 80 percent of all jewel thefts, but did so in crude, often clueless ways. Sandwiched between were about 4,000 skilled professionals who, like the aristocrats, left unwanted items untouched and promptly disposed of their booty. Kuhn, Murphy and their Cadillac-driving lookout, Roger Frederick Clark, probably aspired to this middle class. But they were young—Kuhn was 26, Murphy 27 and Clark 29—and they liked living large. They courted betrayal.


James A. Oliver, the director of the American Museum of Natural History, was having a tooth pulled when the heist was first discovered. That afternoon, answering press questions about his institution’s more painful and costly extractions, Oliver conceded that security was “not good.” Other officials elaborated: Batteries in the display-case burglar alarm had been dead for months—a surprise to geology curator Brian H. Mason, who routinely deactivated the system to access the gems. The tops of all the gem hall’s 19 exterior windows were left open two inches overnight for ventilation, and none had burglar alarms. After years when nothing untoward happened, even the precaution of locking a security guard into the gem room overnight had lapsed. 

Museum bookkeepers valued the stolen jewels at $410,000 (about $3 million today.) Historically speaking they were priceless, but because premiums were prohibitive, none were insured. Even as burglary detectives from New York’s 20th Squad dusted for prints (they found none), museum executives shuttered the barn. The J.P. Morgan Hall of Gems and Minerals was immediately closed to visitors and “Know Your Precious Gems,” a popular adult-education course, was postponed indefinitely.

The Star of India. (©AMNH/C. Chesek)


Authorities believed they were pursuing amateurs who had taken big and prominently displayed stones while ignoring more easily disposable clear gems.  Going on the break with these famous nuggets would involve considerable waste and, therefore, little recompense from fences.

Not so, according to Maurice Nadjari, then the assistant district attorney in charge of the case. “They knew what they wanted and took it,” Nadjari said in a recent phone interview. Kuhn, Nadjari said, planned to pass the biggest gems to an airline-pilot friend for quick conveyance to the Far East and resale to wealthy—and anonymous—foreign collectors.

Kuhn and Murphy were men of accomplishment—Kuhn a skin-diving expert, Murphy a violin virtuoso—but the gem-heisting was wanting for discretion. A vice and gambling plainclothesman named James Walsh heard from an informant who’d attended a party thrown by Kuhn, Clark and Murphy at the Cambridge House Hotel on West 86th Street—a short walk from the Natural History Museum. “I think I got something for you,” the source confided. “There are three guys upstairs in this place…spending money like wild. You’d think they were making it with a machine.”

After obtaining a search warrant, detectives went up to Room 1803, a $525-a-month suite of three rooms, and found marijuana, a floor plan of the Natural History Museum and books about precious stones. Their search was interrupted when a disheveled Roger Clark walked in.  Under questioning, Clark, according to Nadjari’s account, promptly caved and revealed that Murphy and Kuhn had flown to Florida. FBI agents soon arrested them for extradition to New York. Although the crime was nearly solved, the drama had just begun.

(L-R) Jack Murphy and Allan Kuhn, suspects in jewel robbery at The Museum of Natural History, at a hearing. (Lynn Pelham//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)


The authorities held their suspects, but not for long.  The presiding New York judge considered Nadjari’s case shaky and set low bail. After posting bond, the suspects flew south, but not before Murf the Surf emerged as the trio’s photogenic and quotable front man. Interviewed at the Miami office of Kuhn’s attorney, a cigar-puffing Murf expressed annoyance over the whole affair. “I was supposed to be on my way to Hawaii to surf. Now all this inconvenience has fouled things up.” Kuhn sat quietly nearby. 

Things were going well for the rogues. On December 1, a Miami court dismissed federal charges. Nineteen-year-old New York stenographer Janet Florkiewicz, a key material witness who had purportedly carried the jewels when they fled to Miami, was no longer cooperating.  All of Nadjari’s efforts to hike the defendants’ bail failed.

But on December 13, Murphy’s longtime girlfriend, Bonnie Lou Sutera, 22, despondent after hearing that Murphy had a new love, was found dead in a suburban Miami apartment—an apparent suicide.  On January 2, Murphy and Clark were arrested for a Miami burglary, but only after leading police on a mile-long chase in a car registered to Sutera.

Murphy and Clark were arraigned on the burglary charge but soon made the $1,000 bail, in time to fly to a New York hearing—and a waiting trap. Searching files on unsolved jewelry thefts, police struck pay dirt. As soon as the hearing on the Natural History Museum theft adjourned, Kuhn, Murphy and Clark were charged with the January 4, 1964, jewel robbery and pistol-whipping of the actress Eva Gabor. With bail raised to $100,000, Kuhn, Murphy and Clark were suddenly willing to negotiate.


Maurice Nadjari faced a dilemma. His suspects were under lock and key, but he needed their help in recovering the loot. But he dared not ask the judge to ease their incarceration. Kuhn was spirited from his jail cell for negotiations with Nadjari and three New York plainclothes detectives. Kuhn said he could recover all the gems—if only he could go to Miami alone. “There’s no damn way you’re going anywhere alone,” Nadjari assured him.  But lured by the prospect of a quick recovery, and convinced that Kuhn’s custody wouldn’t be jeopardized if the three officers went along, Nadjari gambled on a secret trip to Miami.

The mission became a nightmare. Spotting a local TV newsman as they waited to board a Miami flight on January 5, Nadjari grabbed one cop’s fedora, shoved it onto Kuhn’s head and pulled the brim down to his ears. Press evasion continued in Miami. But at Kuhn’s insistence (and the cops’ encouragement), Nadjari agreed to rent a red Cadillac convertible. Just steps ahead of reporters and photographers, the men moved between perhaps a dozen hotels as Kuhn phoned and took calls from his contacts. A compulsive TV watcher, Kuhn offered elaborate excuses for the delay, along with hints of bribes if his custodians would just “look the other way.” At one point, Nadjari phoned his boss, District Attorney Frank S. Hogan. “If you get the jewels, come back,” Hogan advised him. “If you don’t, go to Argentina.”

Finally, a phone call delivered directions to the key for a locker at the Northeast Miami Trailways bus terminal. Detective Richard Maline returned with two water-logged suede pouches (a clue that the gems had been stowed underwater.) Inside were just nine gems: the Star of India, the Midnight Star, five emeralds and two aquamarines—but neither the DeLong Ruby nor other lesser gems. With the clock ticking, Nadjari cut his losses. Abandoning the red Caddie in favor of a furtive ride to the airport with a local bail bondsman, Nadjari, the detectives and Kuhn caught an 8:15 A.M. flight. Before buckling in, Nadjari slid the sodden, jewel-laden pouches into an airsickness bag.


On April 6, 1965, two months after pleading guilty to the Natural History Museum heist, Allan Kuhn, Jack Murphy and Roger Clark were each sentenced to three-year terms at New York’s Rikers Island Correctional Facility. (The Eva Gabor case was eventually dropped after she refused to testify.) A few days after the sentencing, the Star of India went back on exhibit, this time secured in a thick glass display case stationed on the museum’s main floor. Each night the case pivoted out of sight into a black two-ton safe.

That September, the DeLong Star Ruby was recovered—rather, it was ransomed for $25,000 by the insurance millionaire John D. MacArthur (the same man who would establish the foundation that funds the fellowships known as “genius grants”). Though the New York DA’s office played no part, the recovery bore the earmarks of Nadjari’s scavenger hunt: MacArthur, after negotiating privately with a Florida fence, found the stone in a telephone booth near Palm Beach. (Eventually Duncan Pearson, 34, a Miami friend of the Rikers convicts, was convicted of hiding the gem.) With the DeLong’s return, 10 of the 24 most valuable gems were back in museum custody.  The rest were never found.


In the years since, interest in Roger Frederick Clark and Allan Dale Kuhn has faded—although Kuhn got a 1975 writer’s credit for Live a Little, Steal a Lot, a film about the Museum of Natural History caper. In 1967, Murphy and Kuhn were arrested for a string of Los Angeles jewelry burglaries, but they were never tried. Murf the Surf’s criminal career  then took a much darker turn. In 1968 he was charged with conspiracy and assault in connection with a botched armed robbery of Miami Beach socialite Olive Wofford . The next year he was convicted of first-degree murder in the “Whiskey Creek” case: the bludgeoning deaths of two California secretaries—accomplices in a securities theft—whose bodies found in a creek north of Miami.

Murphy was ultimately sentenced to two life terms plus 20 years (one term for the Whiskey Creek Murder conviction, the balance for the Wofford robbery conviction)  but won parole in 1986, emerging—he said—a changed man, dedicated to ministering to prison convicts. In 2012, he asked the state of Florida to grant clemency and restore his civil rights. Governor Rick Scott, who did not know about Murphy until the case came up, was apparently willing to grant clemency. But Murphy failed to garner the two additional cabinet votes required.


Today the Star of India, the DeLong Star Ruby and the Midnight Star are displayed in the Natural History Museum’s first-floor Morgan Hall of Minerals. (The former fourth-floor J.P. Morgan Hall of Gems and Minerals has long since been partitioned into staff offices—though its heavy metal gate and at least some of the original windows are still in place.) According to physical-sciences curator George E. Harlow, the three storied gems are the collection’s most popular pieces. But the current display offers no hint of past notoriety, and the room’s ambience was subdued. It’s as if the gems had escaped their tabloid days and settled into the long arc of geology.

Twelve Anniversaries and Events Worth Traveling For in 2019

Smithsonian Magazine

For those feeling a bit of of wanderlust, it’s hard to winnow down the options when faced with a whole world as your oyster. Between all 50 states, let alone the seven continents, how can any traveler (the naturalist, the bookworm, the foodie, the film buff, or really anyone) seeking to broaden their horizons pick where to go? In 2019, a chock-full of anniversaries offer an opportunity to narrow your focus and visit standout exhibitions, festivals or rare natural wonders. Here are ten destinations for where this particular year has particular significance:

The Grand Canyon

(Patrick Gorski / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In 1919, the Grand Canyon, a 277-mile-long, one-mile-deep crevice snaking through the Arizona desert, finally became a National Park more than 30 years after the matter had been introduced in the Senate. In its first year, 44,173 people visited the site. In 2017, it was the second-most-visited national park, with over 6 million visitors. They have good reason: The park is as stunning as it is ancient. Parts of the Grand Canyon appear to be almost 70 million years old (and even the “newer” sections of rock eroded by the Colorado River are around 6 million years old). An ancestral Puebloan settlement, Tusayan, dates back to 1185 A.D. and is open to tourists wishing to learn about the indigenous peoples who’ve lived in the canyon for over 10,000 years. There are more modern architectural feats to see, too, like the Grand Canyon Skywalk, which the Hualapai tribe operates, as well as hiking and camping opportunities.

A variety of events are in store for the park’s centennial, starting with a day of celebration that will involve demonstrations from artisans from the park’s 11 associated tribes, an oral history booth, a Teddy Roosevelt impersonator recounting his involvement with preserving the area and, of course, cake. Also on the 2019 roster are the Grand Canyon History Symposium; a performance of the “Grand Canyon Suite” and other Arizona-related works in Tucson; the Centennial Summerfest, where amateur astronomers set up telescopes and offer lessons; and the annual Celebration of Art, which brings artists to paint en plein air and then display their work.

Saint Lucia

The Petit and Gros Pitons in Saint Lucia (Philippe Giraud / Corbis via Getty Images)

Technically, the 40th celebration of the island’s independence began on December 13 with the Festival of Lights, a fireworks-and-lantern-filled night dedicated to the country’s namesake. But more festivities are in store year-round. The month of February, when the country celebrates Independence Day on the 22nd, is especially jam-packed, with an events schedule that includes a play revisiting St. Lucia’s origin story (did you know it’s the only country named after a real-life woman?), a color run 5K, a national parade and an open-air concert with creole, soca and calypso tunes. Plus, with almost 100 miles of coastline for a 233-square-mile country, pristine beaches abound.

Near Soufrière, which was the island’s capital in French colonial times, travelers can hire a guide to help them summit Gros Piton in an around-four-hour round trip that offers Instagram-envy-inspiring views. (Truly intrepid hikers can tackle the more rugged Petit Piton.) The Soufrière region also markets the “world’s only drive-in volcano,” Sulphur Springs Park, where visitors can get up close and personal with the steaming craters on a guided tour, try out a mud bath and check out a nearby warm waterfall, Piton Falls. In the island’s central rainforest, you can go ziplining and try to catch a glimpse of one of the 500 iridescent-blue-and-green St. Lucia Parrots. Summer travelers will be able to catch events centered around arts and culture, including the Saint Lucia Carnival, a jazz week and a weekend devoted to food and rum.


The Bauhaus building in Dessau, designed by Walter Gropius. The art school's students lived in this dormitory. (Pley / iStock)

In 1919, the Bauhaus school of arts, design, architecture and crafts opened in Weimar, Germany. Founded by architect Walter Gropius, Bauhaus aimed to meld fine art with design, marry form with function. Fourteen years and 1,250 students later, as World War II loomed, it shuttered. But Bauhaus’ legacy far exceeds its brief lifespan. The immensely influential school became a greenhouse for modernism and its left sleek, functional fingerprints throughout Germany and abroad. (Several Bauhaus affiliates fled to the United States and founded institutions like Black Mountain College and the Chicago Institute of Design.) Ten German states have joined together to celebrate the school’s centennial, starting with a week-long celebration (January 16 to 24) of boundary-pushing art in Berlin that includes a 360-degree music video, an all-female hip-hop dance performance and a theatrical world premiere. Arts and design aficionados can visit the clusters of Unesco World Heritage-recognized sites in Weimar, Dessau and Bernau, spend the night in a former Bauhaus studio and see the art of Bauhaus’ famous teachers and students at two brand-new museums. Visitors with more time can take a “Grand Tour of Modernism,” visiting dozens of other sites through Germany.

Tourists walk along the East Side Gallery, one of the longest remaining sections of the Berlin Wall. (benstevens / iStock)

November 9, 2019 also marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which divided East and West Berlin for 28 years. Berlin museums will commemorate the Cold War détente through a slew of exhibitions.

Part of the 2018 i Light Singapore festival (Suhaimi Abdullah / Getty Images)


The Singaporean street-food montage in Crazy Rich Asians was practically enough to prompt food-lovers to buy tickets as soon as they exited the theater, but if that wasn’t reason enough to visit the metropolis, Singapore is celebrating its bicentennial in 2019. In 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles, a representative of the British East India Company, landed in the port settlement. While it’s that date—not Singapore’s 1959 independence from Britain—that’s being celebrated, Singaporean authorities have emphasized that the bicentennial is an opportunity to reflect on the history preceding Raffles’ course-altering, colonialist arrival. A recently unveiled alteration to a classic statue evinces that goal: the polymarble statue of Raffles has been temporarily painted to blend in with the skyscraper behind it, rendering Raffles nearly invisible

The white polymarble Stamford Raffles statue, as altered by artist Teng Kai Wei for the Singaporean bicentennial (Roslan Rahman / AFP / Getty Images)

The bicentennial events are set to roll out throughout the year, from a special version of i Light Singapore, a “sustainable light art festival” with 30 different installations in late January and February, the Singapore Heritage Festival in March and a cinematic historical exhibit at Fort Canning, a military-hub-turned-public-space.

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

People on bikes stop to watch a documentary film shown at an open, outdoor screening during the 2017 Panafrican Film and Television Festival (FESPACO) in Ouagadougou. (ISSOUF SANOGO / Staff / Getty Images)

Think Sundance or Cannes, but held biannually in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. That’s FESPACO (the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou), the largest film festival in Africa, which turns 50 this year and celebrates African filmmaking. In 1969, it attracted 24 films from seven countries, but now, it draws industry professionals from Africa and beyond to view some 200 films across 350 screenings held in three cities. The decision to open the 2017 festival to digital films also boosted submissions to a record-setting 1,000. For its anniversary, the festival will host screenings of iconic African movies; a retrospective of the films that have snagged the festival’s top prize, the Golden Stallion of Yennega (the award depicts a warrior princess considered the mother of the Mossi people), in the past; and as usual, an opening ceremony in a 25,000-seat stadium.

London, England

Athletes representing Australia and Afghanistan play in the most recent ICC Cricket World Cup, which took place in 2015. (Paul Kane / Getty Images)

Wicket. Pitch. Popping crease. These terms might sound alien, unless you count yourself a cricket aficionado, but the sport used to be popular in the United States before baseball came along. One-hundred-seventy-five years ago, the first international sporting competition of modern times (cricket dates back to the 13th-century) was a 1844 matchup between the United States and Canada. Canada won by 23 runs. Since then, the matchups have grown in scale, and in 2019, England and Wales will host the 12th Cricket World Cup this summer. Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies will be competing in the May 30-July 14 tournament, beginning and ending at pitches in London.

A statue of Queen Victoria outside of London's Kensington Palace (Oli Scarff / Getty Images)

For those who prefer royal history to cricket, 2019 also marks the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth. London’s Kensington Palace—perhaps better known now as the official residence of William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge—is debuting a new exhibit on May 24, Victoria’s birthday. The longest-reigning British monarch before Elizabeth II, Victoria grew up in the palace, and visitors can tour her reimagined quarters, see items from her closet and learn how, long before social media, Victoria harnessed the power of royal photographs.

Loire Valley, France

(ClickAlps / REDA&CO / UIG via Getty Images)

France is celebrating the lives and legacies of two famous Italians, Leonardo da Vinci and Catherine de’ Medici, in 2019. The quintessential “Renaissance man” moved to what’s now known as the Château du Clos Lucé in 1516 at the behest of King Francis, who made him the “first painter, engineer and architect to the King.” Three years later, Leonardo died at the age of 67. Among the variety of Leonardo-themed offerings in the Loire Valley are recreations of the workshops where the engineer and artist drafted plans for a piping system that would span France, the first exhibition of a tapestry replica of Leonardo's "Last Supper" outside of the Vatican since the 1500s, a Renaissance music festival, his alleged second tomb and contemporary artwork riffing off da Vinci’s legacy. Leonardo’s death year doubles as the year that Catherine de’ Medici, the Florentine noblewoman who’d become queen of France and mother to three kings, was born, and accordingly, her personal belongings and tapestries will be display. Beyond the quincentenary, the Loire Valley teems with chateaus and wineries to explore.

Normandy, France

A memorial at Juno Beach, on of the landing sites on D-Day (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images)

Seventy-five years ago, on June 6, 1944, Allied troops landed on five beaches in the largest seaborne invasion in history. That maritime operation, D-Day, marked the start of the liberation of Western Europe from the Nazis. The Normandy region in northern France will commemorate the momentous military anniversary throughout early June, from nearly 300 people clad in World War II replica uniforms parachuting into historic drop spots from vintage DC-3 and C-47 Dakota aircraft. The beaches and surrounding towns will also host firework displays, historic vehicle parades, camp reenactments, “Liberty Balls” with era-appropriate swing music and Lindy Hop dancing, a book fair, a commemoration of the contributions of the Comanche tribe to WWII, an exhibit on D-Day’s influence on Marvel Comics mastermind Jack Kirby, and chances to visit the press room from which American war reporters worked. (See this guide to events for more specifics.) American visitors may also want to pay their respects at the Normandy American Cemetery, where nearly 10,000 fallen service members, including many who lost their lives during D-Day, are buried, and the Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument, the spot where Rangers scaled a cliff face near Omaha Beach to neutralize critically positioned German artillery.

Vintage WWII-era aircraft (Michael Prophet, courtesy Daks Over Normandy)

Chile and Argentina

A rendering of the eclipse as seen from La Silla Observatory in Chile. (M. Druckmüller, P. Aniol, K. Delcourte, P. Horálek, L. Calçada / ESO)

Caught the eclipse bug last summer? 2019 sees another eclipse, this time passing from the Pitcairn Islands to the Atlantic coast of Argentina on the evening of July 2. The path of totality stripes through Chile and Argentina, including La Serena, Chile’s second-oldest city; Argentina’s arid Cuyo and Pampas regions; and the suburbs of Buenos Aires. According to Eclipsophile, a site run by a Canadian meteorologist and astronomer duo, the Elqui Valley, renowned for stargazing, is a particularly ideal spot to watch the moon overtake the sun. The total eclipse will only be visible overhead for about two glorious minutes (plus two-odd hours of a partial eclipse), but there are plenty of other offerings for tourists, such as the observatories—like La Silla and Mamalluca—dotting Chile’s Coquimbo region to the Atacama Desert, the wine-and-paleontology allure of Argentina’s San Juan province and eating picadas amidst the bustle of Buenos Aires.

Cape Canaveral, Florida

(Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex)

It’s been 50 years since Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon with a transfixed nation watching. The Kennedy Space Center, less than an hour outside of Orlando, is the site where the Saturn V rocket that launched Apollo 11 took off. Yes, there’ll be a pricey gala to commemorate the landmark achievement, but there are also more family-friendly options year-round. The Kennedy Space Center will be debuting a new exhibit, Touch the Moon, which uses augmented reality to let visitors recreate those iconic first steps on the moon. Space enthusiasts can also walk below a real, 363-foot-long Saturn V rocket (one of only three in the world) with projections of moon-landing footage playing out on its sides, spend time in replicated 1969 living room with the channel tuned to the historic moment, see the Astrovan depicted in First Man and even learn about what astronaut life is really like from one of NASA’s own over lunch. Cool off at the nearby Canaveral National Seashore or Cocoa Beach, where thousands gathered in the sand to watch the launch.

Watch this video in the original article


(Magone / iStock)

The 62-square-mile country, so small that it does not have an airport, celebrates its 300th birthday this year. It’s too late for travelers to catch the sold-out first celebrations, when, on January 23, two parades march from different sides of the country and meet up to reenact the unification of Vaduz and Schellenberg into Liechtenstein, but it’ll be live-streaming on the tricentennial website. Fortunately, Liechtenstein’s National Day isn’t until August 15. On that day, residents are invited to the rose garden of the Princely Family’s usually inaccessible residence, Vaduz Castle. Visitors without a royal invite can still enjoy themselves in Vaduz, however—the city puts on free concerts capped by a fireworks display, and all public transit and museum tickets are free throughout the country, so you can see a stamp museum, the “Treasure Chamber” museum’s moon rocks and Fabergé Eggs, and a special exhibition about 18th-century Liechtenstein at the national museum. The country is also launching an app that highlights historical spots along a 47-mile trail that travels through all 11 municipalities and bringing art from several private and state collections together for an end-of-year exhibit. Beyond museums and storybook castles, hikers can venture on the three-day Liechtenstein Panoramaweg/Route 66 trail, which starts from the mountain village of Malbun, and oenophiles can sample the Princely Winery’s offerings.

New York State

The pavilion of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (Photo courtesy of Bethel Woods Center for the Arts)

Woodstock, the storied hippie-bliss music festival that drew a crowd of 400,000 to farmland in Bethel, New York, to see rock legends like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane, happened on an August weekend a half-century ago. The Bethel Woods Music and Culture Festival is set to celebrate Woodstock’s golden anniversary and will feature performances spanning multiple artistic disciplines (the lineup has yet to be announced), “TED-style talks from leading futurists and retro-tech experts” and a new exhibit about Woodstock.

One weekend prior, from August 9 to 11, the Walt Whitman International Festival will celebrate the American wordsmith’s 200th birthday in his hometown of Long Island, which Whitman described in verse:

“On the sands of Paumanok’s [the name given to area by its original inhabitants] shore gray and rustling,
The yellow half-moon enlarged, sagging down, dropping, the face of the sea almost touching,
The boy ecstatic, with his bare feet the waves, with his hair the atmosphere dallying”

The festival’s roster includes academic presentations, theatrical performances and poetry readings, including a “marathon reading” of Whitman’s most well-known work, Leaves of Grass. While in the vicinity of New York City, it’s also worth a visit to two marquee-name museums celebrating major anniversaries, the Museum of Modern Art (its 90th) and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (60th, which it’s commemorating by expanding its opening hours).

Five Events to Watch For as Germany Celebrates 100 Years of the Bauhaus Movement

Smithsonian Magazine

One hundred years ago, German architect Walter Gropius sought to unite formal art styles with craftsmanship, elevating the latter to a level of prestige previously withheld from artisans and designers.

Gropius’s declared objective was nothing short of revolutionary: His Bauhaus movement reimagined art for the modern world, with utilitarian functionality prescribing a streamlined form that still preserved the intangible spark unique to artistic expression.

Between 1919 and 1933, Bauhaus adherents across three separate German cities—Weimar, Dessau and Berlin—embraced the school’s ethos by redesigning their environments to fit its avant-garde bent. Marcel Breuer, for example, developed the so-called “Wassily Chair,” a tubular steel seat that seemingly looks more at home in a contemporary kitchen than in early 20th-century Europe, while László Moholy-Nagy pioneered the creation of sleek, easily readable sans serif typefaces.

Part philosophy, part utopian idealism and part unconventional artistic production, Bauhaus was, above all, an inspired approach toward life. Today, the school’s ideals still inform our world, from the clean lines of modern architecture to the functional design of various household items. Now, as the movement’s home country prepares to celebrate 100 years of Bauhaus with a pantheon of celebratory happenings, we’ve selected the top five events to keep an eye out for among the year of festivities:

Opening Festival (January 16-24, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Germany)

Théâtre d'Ombre Christian Boltanski Installation (© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018 and Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg)

The nine-day opening festival kicks off with around 100 contemporary artists participating in more than two dozen productions staged at Berlin’s Art Academy. Last night, artnet News’ Hili Perlson reports, jazz pianist and composer Michael Wollny began the celebrations with a musical arrangement reflecting Bauhaus’ experimental compositions. Other highlights of the festival include a dance-centric virtual reality installation exploring the relationship between man and machine, an installation juxtaposing László Moholy-Nagy’s light- and shadow-filled works with those of two modern artists, and even club nights led by musicians and DJs.

According to the Bauhaus Archive’s website, the festival builds on the legacy of Bauhaus Week 1923—an August fair featuring stage events, concerts and lectures—and the movement’s “legendary” parties. Like these earlier celebrations, the opening salvo aims to enable artists to revel in radically modern, multi- and interdisciplinary creative outlets. As a Bauhaus 100 press statement notes, the event comprises of concerts, plays, dance and film, lectures, radio programs, workshops, and even puppet theatre.

Bauhaus Imaginista: Still Undead (March 15-June 10, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin)

Bauhaus Imaginista is an extensive research and exhibition campaign designed to trace the global effects of Bauhaus theory, particularly in non-European countries. To do the massive project justice, it's been broken into four separate “chapters” hosted by institutions across the world. According to a press release, each chapter includes a host of exhibitions, workshops, conferences and discussions based on one specific Bauhaus artifact.

The project has been ongoing since the spring of 2018, but its final chapter might be its most impressive yet. From March 15 to June 10, 2019, Still Undead will take over Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt with a blockbuster exhibition of Kurt Schwerdtfeger’s “reflecting light plays,” which later formed the basis for an avant-garde cinema subculture. According to the chapter portal, Still Undead further questions the “overlapping territories of artistic expression, hedonism, micro politics, self-fashioning and commerce,” with an overall aim of interrogating how art can be appropriated for political gain.

Past chapters in the series include Corresponding With, which was anchored by an August through October 2018 exhibition at the National Museum of Modern Art Kyoto that examined the educational approach espoused by Bauhaus in relation to educational reforms in Asian countries such as Japan and India, and Moving Away—hosted first by Hangzhou’s China Design Museum and then by Moscow’s Museum of Contemporary Art—a show that explored the ways in which Bauhaus principles were adapted over the 20th century by individuals in the former U.S.S.R., India, North Korea and China. The most recent chapter, Learning From, was an initiative featuring events in Rabat, Morocco; São Paulo, Brazil; and New York City. It focused on Bauhaus members’ interest in indigenous and pre-modern material cultures, as well as the creations of North African, American and Brazilian Bauhaus practitioners.

Bauhaus and America: Experiments in Light and Movement (Through March 10, Westphalian State Museum of Art and Cultural History, Münster, Germany)

Bauhaus ideals spread far beyond Germay, reaching such luminaries as Neo-Dadaist Robert Rauschenberg, who studied under Bauhaus pioneer Josef Albers, and his stage collaborator Merce Cunningham, who later went on to influence the rise of modern dance in an international arena. Fittingly, the forward-looking exhibition Bauhaus and America: Experiments in Light and Movement follows the Bauhaus members who emigrated following the school’s closure by the Nazis in 1933 and explores how Bauhaus conceptions of light, movement and the stage are still seen in the work of such contemporary artists as Marcel Dzama, Barbara Kasten and Daria Martin. Altogether, more than 150 works representing around 50 artists are included in the show, which runs through March 10, 2019.

Not to miss: works by Moholy-Nagy and Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack, a German-born Bauhaus artist who escaped to Britain in the mid-1930s but was deported to Australia as an “enemy alien” in 1940. Moholy-Nagy’s “Light Space Modulator,” now considered the first large-scale kinetic light sculpture, can be seen in action at 11 a.m. or 4 p.m. daily.

In February, according to host museum LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, visitors can attend workshops on Hirschfeld-Mack’s “Colored Light Live” apparatus.

Bauhaus Museum Weimar (April 6), Haus am Horn (May 18) and Bauhaus Museum Dessau (September 8) openings

Bauhaus Museum Dessau (Rendering by Außenansicht)

Three new museum openings are timed to coincide with the Bauhaus 100 celebrations. First up is the Bauhaus Museum Weimar, a five-floor exhibition space scheduled to open on April 6, 2019. Designed by architect Heike Hanada, the museum is a minimalist concrete cube covered in narrow panels of opaque frosted glass. The site itself is historically significant, according to the museum’s website: To the west, an open sporting and activity space reflects the ambitious construction projects of the Weimar Republic, while directly across the street, the monumental “Gauforum” building reflects the city’s Nazi past. Boasting around 2,000 square meters of gallery space, the museum will host a collection of more than 1,000 Bauhaus artifacts, including Breuer chairs, paintings by Paul Klee and Lyonel Feininger, and a modernist teapot designed by Marianne Brandt.

Weimar’s last extant Bauhaus building, the Haus am Horn, will re-open to the public on May 18 after a series of extensive renovations that restored the house to its original appearance. Built by painter Georg Muche in 1923, the structure was designed as a model house for the movement’s 1923 Bauhaus Exhibition. According to Hickley, it was viewed as a “prototype of modern living” and featured furniture crafted by Bauhaus adherents. ArchDaily further notes that Haus am Horn was constructed using experimental building techniques and materials in hopes of cementing its status as a prototype for affordable mass-produced housing.

In Dessau, the city that housed Bauhaus following its departure from Weimar in 1925, the Bauhaus Museum Dessau will be at the forefront of this year’s festivities. Set to open on September 8, the museum was designed by Barcelona’s González Hinz Zabala, who was chosen out of 831 entrants in an international architecture competition. The building’s steel block top floor will hold the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation’s permanent collection, while its more airy lower portion will host temporary exhibitions and events. Significantly, the new space represents the first sizable home for the foundation’s collection of some 40,000 artifacts. Previously, exhibition of these artifacts has been limited by inadequate gallery space.

The Dessau museum’s opening exhibition, titled Bauhaus as Testing Ground: The Collection, will span 1,500 square meters and explore the group’s history in a series of “linked chapters.”

H/T Art Newspaper

Bauhaus Bus’ 10-Month Global Tour

Bauhaus bus next to Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany (Courtesy of Mirko Mielke/Savvy Collective)

A 161-square-foot bus designed to mimic Dessau’s famed Bauhaus school is scheduled to traverse the globe during a 10-month tour dedicated to exploring the movement’s influence outside of the Western world—or as Savvy Contemporary, the design collective behind the initiative, describes its purpose, “unlearn[ing]” colonial attitudes toward modernity.

For Hyperallergic, Zachary Small explains that the project, officially titled “Spinning Triangle,” is “as much a tribute to the Unesco Global Heritage Site [it mirrors] as it is a reinterpretation of the group’s legacy.” The bus is currently in Dessau, where it will remain through January 22. A stint in Berlin will follow, and from there, the bus will depart for Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, before concluding its journey in Hong Kong.

According to Small, the tiny traveling space was designed by Berlin-based architect Van Bo Le-Mentzel, who made the bus’ interior into a virtual clone of the Dessau Bauhaus school’s workshop wing, complete with an area for exhibitions and workshops, as well as a small library.

“Design has power,” the collective tells Gunseli Yalcinkaya for Dezeen. “It creates our environments, our interactions, our being in the world. For too long, practices and narratives from the global south have been kept at the periphery of the design discourse, been ignored altogether, or appropriated."

To combat the Bauhaus movement's Eurocentric bent, the bus will play host to workshops designed to discuss the role of everyday environments in shaping humanity’s collective future. As Yalcinkaya writes, the overall aim is nothing short of developing "an inclusive modernist manifesto.”

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.

Archaeologists Are Unearthing the Stories of the Past Faster Than Ever Before

Smithsonian Magazine

In 1924, a 3-year-old child’s skull found in South Africa forever changed how people think about human origins.

The Taung Child, our first encounter with an ancient group of proto-humans or hominins called australopithecines, was a turning point in the study of human evolution. This discovery shifted the focus of human origins research from Europe and Asia onto Africa, setting the stage for the last century of research on the continent and into its “Cradles of Humankind.”

Few people back then would’ve been able to predict what scientists know about evolution today, and now the pace of discovery is faster than ever. Even since the turn of the 21st century, human origins textbooks have been rewritten over and over again. Just 20 years ago, no one could have imagined what scientists know two decades later about humanity’s deep past, let alone how much knowledge could be extracted from a thimble of dirt, a scrape of dental plaque or satellites in space.

Human fossils are outgrowing the family tree

In Africa, there are now several fossil candidates for the earliest hominin dated to between 5 and 7 million years ago, when we know humans likely split off from other Great Apes based on differences in our DNA.

Although discovered in the 1990s, publication of the 4.4 million year old skeleton nicknamed “Ardi” in 2009 changed scientists’ views on how hominins began walking.

Rounding out our new relatives are a few australopithecines, including Australopithecus deryiremeda and Australopithecus sediba, as well as a potentially late-surviving species of early Homo that reignited debate about when humans first began burying their dead.

Fossils like that of Australopithecus sediba, discovered in South Africa by a 9-year-old boy, are reshaping the human family tree. (Photo by Brett Eloff. Courtesy Prof Berger and Wits University, CC BY-SA)

Perspectives on our own species have also changed. Archaeologists previously thought Homo sapiens evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago, but the story has become more complicated. Fossils discovered in Morocco have pushed that date back to 300,000 years ago, consistent with ancient DNA evidence. This raises doubts that our species emerged in any single place.

This century has also brought unexpected discoveries from Europe and Asia. From enigmatic “hobbits” on the Indonesian island of Flores to the Denisovans in Siberia, our ancestors may have encountered a variety of other hominins when they spread out of Africa. Just this year, researchers reported a new species from the Philippines.

Anthropologists are realizing that our Homo sapiens ancestors had much more contact with other human species than previously thought. Today, human evolution looks less like Darwin’s tree and more like a muddy, braided stream.

The rise of biomolecular archaeology means new opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration among field- and lab-based scientists. (Christina Warinner, CC BY-ND)

Ancient DNA reveals old relationships

Many recent discoveries have been made possible by the new science of ancient DNA.

Since scientists fully sequenced the first ancient human genome in 2010, data from thousands of individuals have shed new insights on our species’ origins and early history.

One shocking discovery is that although our lineages split up to 800,000 years ago, modern humans and Neanderthals mated a number of times during the last Ice Age. This is why many people today possess some Neanderthal DNA.

The 2010 excavation in the East Gallery of Denisova Cave, where the ancient hominin species known as the Denisovans were discovered. (Bence Viola. Dept. of Anthropology, University of Toronto, CC BY-ND)

Ancient DNA is how researchers first identified the mysterious Denisovans, who interbred with us and Neanderthals. And while most studies are still conducted on bones and teeth, it is now possible to extract ancient DNA from other sources like cave dirt and 6,000-year-old chewing gum.

Genetic methods are also reconstructing individual and family relationships, and connecting ancient individuals to living peoples to end decadeslong debates.

The applications go far beyond humans. Paleogenomics is yielding surprising discoveries about plants and animals from ancient seeds and skeletons hidden in the backrooms of museums.

Natural history museums hold a wealth of information, some of which can only be tapped through new biomolecular methods. Scientists analyze modern and fossil animal skeletons to ask questions about the past using ancient proteins. (Mary Prendergast at National Museums of Kenya, CC BY-ND)

Biomolecules are making the invisible visible

DNA is not the only molecule revolutionizing studies of the past.

Paleoproteomics, the study of ancient proteins, can determine the species of a fossil and recently linked a 9-foot tall, 1,300-pound extinct ape that lived nearly 2 million years ago to today’s orangutans.

Dental calculus – the hardened plaque that your dentist scrapes off your teeth – is particularly informative, revealing everything from who was drinking milk 6,000 years ago to the surprising diversity of plants, some likely medicinal, in Neanderthal diets. Calculus can help scientists understand ancient diseases and how the human gut microbiome has changed over time. Researchers even find cultural clues – bright blue lapis lazuli trapped in a medieval nun’s calculus led historians to reconsider who penned illuminated manuscripts.

Scientists unexpectedly found lazurite pigment in calcified plaque clinging to a 11th- to 12th-century woman’s tooth, challenging the assumption that male monks were the primary makers of medieval manuscripts. (Christina Warinner, CC BY-ND)

Lipid residues trapped in pottery have revealed the origins of milk consumption in the Sahara and showed that oddly shaped pots found throughout Bronze and Iron Age Europe were ancient baby bottles.

Researchers use collagen-based “barcodes” of different animal species to answer questions ranging from when Asian rats arrived as castaways on Africa-bound ships to what animals were used to produce medieval parchment or even to detect microbes left by a monk’s kiss on a page.

Big data is revealing big patterns

While biomolecules help researchers zoom into microscopic detail, other approaches let them zoom out. Archaeologists have used aerial photography since the 1930s, but widely available satellite imagery now enables researchers to discover new sites and monitor existing ones at risk. Drones flying over sites help investigate how and why they were made and combat looting.

Archaeologists increasingly use technology to understand how sites fit into their environment and to document sites at risk. Here, a drone captured a tell (a mound indicating build-up of ancient settlements) in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. (Jason Ur, CC BY-ND)

Originally developed for space applications, scientists now use LIDAR – a remote sensing technique that uses lasers to measure distance – to map 3D surfaces and visualize landscapes here on Earth. As a result, ancient cities are emerging from dense vegetation in places like Mexico, Cambodia and South Africa.

Technologies that can peer underground from the surface, such as Ground Penetrating Radar, are also revolutionizing the field – for example, revealing previously unknown structures at Stonehenge. More and more, archaeologists are able to do their work without even digging a hole.

Geophysical survey methods enable archaeologists to detect buried features without digging large holes, maximizing knowledge while minimizing destruction. (Mary Prendergast and Thomas Fitton, CC BY-ND)

Teams of archaeologists are combining big datasets in new ways to understand large-scale processes. In 2019, over 250 archaeologists pooled their findings to show that humans have altered the planet for thousands of years, for example, with a 2,000-year-old irrigation system in China. This echoes other studies that challenge the idea that the Anthropocene, the current period defined by human influences on the planet, only began in the 20th century.

New connections are raising new possibilities

These advances bring researchers together in exciting new ways. Over 140 new Nazca Lines, ancient images carved into a Peruvian desert, were discovered using artificial intelligence to sift through drone and satellite imagery. With the wealth of high-resolution satellite imagery online, teams are also turning to crowdsourcing to find new archaeological sites.

Although new partnerships among archaeologists and scientific specialists are not always tension-free, there is growing consensus that studying the past means reaching across fields.

The Open Science movement aims to makes this work accessible to all. Scientists including archaeologists are sharing data more freely within and beyond the academy. Public archaeology programs, community digs and digital museum collections are becoming common. You can even print your own copy of famous fossils from freely available 3D scans, or an archaeological coloring book in more than 30 languages.

Archaeologists are increasingly reaching out to communities to share their findings, for example at this school presentation in Tanzania. ( Agness Gidna, CC BY-ND)

Efforts to make archaeology and museums more equitable and engage indigenous research partners are gaining momentum as archaeologists consider whose past is being revealed. Telling the human story requires a community of voices to do things right.

Studying the past to change our present

As new methods enable profound insight into humanity’s shared history, a challenge is to ensure that these insights are relevant and beneficial in the present and future.

In a year marked by youth-led climate strikes and heightened awareness of a planet in crisis, it may seem counterproductive to look back in time.

Yet in so doing, archaeologists are providing empirical support for climate change and revealing how ancient peoples coped with challenging environments.

As one example, studies show that while industrial meat production has serious environmental costs, transhumance – a traditional practice of seasonally moving livestock, now recognized by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage – is not only light on the land today, but helped promote biodiversity and healthy landscapes in the past.

Archaeologists today are contributing their methods, data and perspectives toward a vision for a less damaged, more just planet. While it’s difficult to predict exactly what the next century holds in terms of archaeological discoveries, a new focus on “usable pasts” points in a positive direction.

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