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Truman Michelson notes on Cheyenne and Sutaio, 1913 August 11-15

National Anthropological Archives
Negative microfilm

Digital surrogates are available online.

Digitization and preparation of these materials for online access has been funded through generous support from the Arcadia Fund.

Title changed from "Notes on Cheyenne and Sutaio. August 11-15, 1913" 4/7/2014.

Cheyenne and Sutaio notes collected by Truman Michelson from Wolf Chief, Bull Thigh, and Wrapped Hair, with Milton Whiteman as interpreter. Subjects include: Sutaio-Cheyenne history, Cheyenne relationship terms, joking relationship, English-Cheyenne-Sutaio vocabulary, Cheyenne soldier societies (Red Hoof society, Dog Soldiers, Elk society, Fox soldiers), Sutaio tales (Everybody starving, Prairie chicken), Sutaio customs, Cheyenne customs, and berdaches. According to the BAE catalog card, these notes were collected in Clinton, Oklahoma, which is most likely incorrect. His 1913-1914 correspondence in the Records of the BAE and the 35th BAE Annual Report indicate that he conducted fieldwork on the Sutaio during this period at Tongue River Reservation in Montana.

Kickapoo texts from Joseph Murdock, 1929, 1967

National Anthropological Archives
Microfilm- Sol Tax- 9/11/56; University of Michigan-Anthropology, 10/52.

Digital surrogates are available online.

Digitization and preparation of these materials for online access has been funded through generous support from the Arcadia Fund.

English translations by Alice Abraham mailed to Paul H. Voorhis, who in turn sent them to the NAA.

Title changed from "Kickapoo Legends and ethnology 1929" 6/10/2014.

Notebook containing Kickapoo syllabic texts handwritten in 1929 by Joseph Murdock, a Mexican Kickapoo residing in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Also English translations dictated by Alice Abraham of Shawnee, Oklahoma, and handwritten by her granddaugther Susan in 1967. The texts include a story of why rabbits only have fat on their shoulders and an anecdote from Murdock's courtship days. Other texts are on a virginity test, marriage and natal customs, joking relationships, and father and mother-in-law taboos. The notebook also contains 2 pages of linguistic notes in phonetic transcription with English translations.

Autobiographies of two Kiowa women collected by Truman Michelson, 1932 June

National Anthropological Archives
Digital surrogates are available online.

Digitization and preparation of these materials for online access has been funded through generous support from the Arcadia Fund.

Title changed from "Autobiographies; sociology" 5/28/2014.

Notebook containing autobiographies of two Kiowa women handwritten in English by Truman Michelson. The two women, ages 72 and 73, recount memories from their childhood and their marriages. Topics include childhood amuseuments, being vaccinated for smallpox, adultery, and interpersonal relationships between relatives.

Truman Michelson notes on Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho story, 1930 June

National Anthropological Archives
Digital surrogates are available online.

Digitization and preparation of these materials for online access has been funded through generous support from the Arcadia Fund.

Citation corrected from 3188 (part) to 3188-b on 2/28/12.

Title changed from "Miscellaneous notes June 9, 11, 13, 1930" 5/22/2014.

Place supplied from 47th Annual Report of Bureau of American Ethnology, page 2.

Handwritten Cheyenne linguistic and ethnographic notes and anthropometric data collected by Truman Michelson in Oklahoma. Much of the information is from his work with Mack Haag. The materials include vocabulary and notes on grammar and phonetics; a short story in Arapaho about spider with an interlineal English translation; notes on Cheyenne family and kinship relationships, marriage, divorce, adultery, illegitimacy, incest, pregnancy, death, etc.; and anthropometrical data on 22 Cheyenne adult males, identified by name and age.

Cheyenne linguistic and ethnological notes from Mack Haag, undated

National Anthropological Archives
Digital surrogates are available online.

Digitization and preparation of these materials for online access has been funded through generous support from the Arcadia Fund.

Title changed from "Cheyenne Vocabulary and linguistic notes, with interspersed ethnological notes" 4/3/2014.

Truman Michelson's handwritten notes on Cheyenne linguistics and ethnology from his work with Mack Haag, a Southern Cheyenne, in Oklahoma. The notes are primarily linguistic in nature and include vocabulary with English translations and notes on phonetics. Ethnological notes are interspersed and cover topics such as joking relationships, the concept of sickness, puberty, marriageable age, and counting coup.

Why Adults Scorn Teens For Sleeping Too Much

Smithsonian Magazine

Teenagers love to sleep. You know this whether you’re a parent or a sitcom watcher. And while their habits may be the brunt of jokes and parental groaning, new research suggests that teenagers are sleeping in for a good reason.

A new study kept track of 397 people from age 12 to 88 for nine days. Six times a day the researchers caught up with their subjects on the phone, asking them about their sleep. As you might expect more sleep was good for people—people who slept less than average felt worse. But they also found that the impact of sleeping more wasn’t uniform. Eric Horowitz, a blogger at Peer Reviewed by My Neurons, explains:

The researchers found that for adolescents, there was a positive linear relationship between sleep and positive affect. Compared to an average night of sleep, adolescents felt better with one extra hour, even better with two extra hours, and even better with three extra hours. The more the merrier.

However, for the elderly and middle-aged adults, too much sleep led to less well-being. Instead of there being a linear relationship between sleep duration and positive affect, the relationship resembled an inverted U. A night of below-average sleep left adults feeling worse than average, but so did a night in which they slept three hours more than usual. If adults think it’s a bad idea for kids to sleep until noon, that’s because for adults it actually is a bad idea.

In other words, “[i]n adults, but not adolescents, not only sleeping less but also sleeping more than one’s average can be associated with lower affective well-being,” as the researchers write. So scoff at your teen all you want, but that sleep feels a lot better for them than it probably does for you.

Oral history interview with Helen Williams Drutt (English), 1991 July 5-October 20

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 264 pages An interview of Helen Williams Drutt English conducted 1991 July 5-1991 October 20, by Darrel Sewell and Marina Pacini, for the Archives of American Art Philadelphia Project.
Drutt English speaks of early childhood in Winthrop, Massachusetts and growing up in Philadelphia; memories of her parents and grandparents and connection to the decorative arts and style; attending Birney Elementary School and returning to Winthrop in the summers; art lessons as a child; attending Tyler School of Art; early training as an artist and interest in art history; first jobs and working at the Smith Memorial Recreation Center and the Psychological Research Institute and teaching; travel in Europe after college; marriage to Lawry Weiss and divorce; attending classes at the Barnes Foundation; teaching school children; second marriage to William Drutt; starting an interior design firm; moving to her current home; attempting to build a craft center in Philadelphia; joining the Arts Council of the YM/YWHA and significant exhibitions; marriage to Maurice English; serving as Founding Director of Philadelphia Council of Professional Craftsmen and organizing exhibitions; advising Calvin Hathaway on collecting for the Philadelphia Museum of Art; starting the Inter-Society on Twentieth Century Decorative Arts and Design; attending the World Crafts Council in Dublin; teaching at the Philadelphia College of Art, and creating an original course on contemporary craft; opening Helen Drutt Gallery; relationships to artists and to collectors; collecting philosophy concentrating on ceramics and jewelry; developing her archive; developing relationships with European goldsmiths; changing locations of gallery (Old Town, Walnut Street); teaching at Moore College of Art and becoming Director of the Moore College of Art Gallery; relationship of the gallery to the Philadelphia Craft Show and the Fabric Workshop; developing relationships with collectors beyond Philadelphia; working with the National Endowment for the Arts; various European scholars; travel to Hawaii and relationships there; interest in poetry; Relationship and marriage to Maurice English; Opening a branch of her gallery in New York; discussion of the changing perception of craft as art. Close friendship with Stella Kramrisch; relationship to George Nakashima; development of the gallery system for crafts; detailed discussion of her relationship to Calvin Hathaway; the development of COLLAB; Difference between work with non-profits and the commercial sector; developing the Robert Arneson exhibition at the Gallery of the Moore College of Art; the financials of running a gallery; work in Australia; ongoing network of international contacts. Also reminiscences of Rudolf Staffel, Dr. Hermann Gundesheimer, O. Spurgeon English, Gladys Myers and Gallery 1015, Ms. De Mazia, William Daley, T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, Ted Hallman, Dick Jones, Daniel Jackson, Stanley Lechtzin, Olaf Skoogfors, Bill Daley, Dick Reinhardt, Dick Koga, Calvin Hathaway, Paula Winokur, Richard Kagan, Albert Paley, Ronald Pearson, Claus Bury, Robert Pfannebecker, Howard Kottler, Patti Warashina, Karen Karnes, Peter Voulkos, Society of North American Goldsmiths, Tom Rippon, Emmy Van Leersum, Gijs Bakker, Breon OCasey, Mark Burns, Emily Reinsel, Evan Turner, Edna Beron, Lois Boardman, Peter Dormer, Evert Von Straatten, Lila and Twigg Smith, Jim Jenson, Stephen Berg, Robert Arneson, Stella Kramrisch, Claire Zeisler, Ruth Duckworth, Joke van Ommen, Dale Chihuly, James Surls, Peter Chang.

One Man Packed and Shipped Over 700 Pounds of Boston Snow This Year

Smithsonian Magazine

When Boston’s winter blasted through snowfall records, residents had to figure out how to deal with the accumulation. The city built a snow mountain and watched with disbelief as it lasted into the summer (it finally melted on July 14). While many tried to wish away the snow, one man took action: he started selling snow to people around the country, with some exceptions. "Ship Snow, Yo!," Kyle Waring’s website, stipulates, "We will not ship snow to anyone in Massachusetts! We're in the business of expunging snow, no joke!"

The idea may have started as a joke, but it took off. Waring shipped more than 700 pounds while the snow lasted, reports Curt Woodward for The Boston Globe

Customers could choose from the "Box O’ Snow," which included 12 pounds of "historic snow" packed in bags inside an insulated styrofoam box or the "Blizzard in a Box," which weighed in at 22 pounds of snow. While the scheme brought in $10,000 in gross sales, Waring doesn’t necessarily recommend the venture as a sucessful business. 

“My profit margin wasn’t great — it was around 20 to 25 percent,” Waring tells The Globe. Woodward writes:

He hoped to “lengthen the season” in May by tapping into the snow supply in Colorado, but that didn’t pan out. “I didn’t have the time to develop relationships with local shipping companies, so I just relied on my friends. And they were just not reliable,” he said with a chuckle.

Waring also used his snow-selling platform to ask for donations to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless and raised $255. 

How Doughnut-Loving Cops Became a Stereotype

Smithsonian Magazine

From The Simpsons’ Chief Wiggum to the Twin Peaks sheriff’s department, in pop culture police officers and doughnuts go together like peanut butter and jelly. There are few, if any, other professions that are so associated with a specific food as cops and doughnuts that it begs the question of how the sugary snack became a staple for the stereotypical cop’s diet?

As Cara Giamo writes for Atlas Obscura, cops around the United States began to be associated with doughnuts back in the 1950’s, when they were some of the only snacks available to police walking the late-night beat. Back then, doughnut shops were some of the only stores open late at night because they needed to get ready for the morning rush. As a result, they were some of the best options for cops who needed a quick bite to eat, a place to fill out paperwork or make a call, or to simply sit and take a breather, Michael Krondl writes in his book, The Donut.

“When it came to [meals], graveyard cops in the forties and fifties had few choices,” former Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper once wrote, Krondl reports. “They could pack lunch, pray for an all-night diner on their beat, or fill up on doughnuts. Doughnuts usually won out. They were, to most palates, tasty, and they were cheap and convenient.”

At the time, Giamo writes, the relationship between doughnut and police officer wasn’t a joke: in fact, it was a point of pride for some shops:

...having officers around made the shop workers feel safe—as early as 1950, one small-time inn owner threatened a larger, litigious hotel chain by boasting, “our High Sheriff and our local troop of state police… help themselves to coffee and doughnuts in my kitchen when the spirit so moves them, which seems about every day.”

In some cases, according to Giamo, police departments had to step in and remind their officers that accepting free doughnuts could give an impression of favor to a person or business that could undermine their roles as impartial law enforcement. Even so, the doughnut had already become married to police in popular culture, as well as the cops walking or driving their nightly beats.

For more on the history of the long relationship between police officer and doughnut, make sure to read Giamo’s article.

Cadavers Are Teaching Doctors to Be More Empathetic

Smithsonian Magazine

For students starting their first year of medical school, gross anatomy lab can be a rite of passage that lives up to its name. Often, it’s the first time students do the dirty work of taking a human body apart in order to learn how it works. It can be a harrowing experience, and many times students react to their discomfort by emotionally disengaging from the body beneath their scalpels.

But while joking about a corpse can help calm the nerves, it might be doing more harm than good. If one of the earliest lessons a future doctor learns is to keep a body at arm’s length, they might do their living patients a disservice by avoiding engaging with them, John Tyler Allen writes for The Atlantic.

“To walk into a room and start cutting up a human being’s body, it’s not normal,” Jerry Vannatta, the former executive dean of OU College of Medicine, tells Allen.

Vannatta got the idea for what he calls the “Donor Luncheon” in 2000 while teaching a workshop in Taiwan. When one of the attendees told him about his experience meeting with the family of the cadaver he dissected during gross anatomy lab, Vannatta was amazed — and eager to give his own students the same experience. Ever since, he has arranged for his students to meet with the families of donor cadavers in hopes of humanizing the bodies they will spend the semester taking apart.

It’s common for medical students to adopt all kinds of gallows humor in order to make themselves more comfortable with the weirdness of the situation. But according to a recent study published in the journal Anatomical Sciences Education, coping mechanisms like giving cadavers funny nicknames might set a precedent that influences future doctors to distance themselves from their living patients down the road.

Teaching doctors and officials at medical schools have been concerned with this element of the course since the 1950s, when a sociologist named Robert Merton found that hospitals were training doctors in a sterile and un-empathetic environment, Allen writes. Even as medicine becomes more personalized through digital technology, doctors still struggle to connect with their patients as more than just a set of numbers, statistics and diagnoses.

“The close doctor-patient relationship, necessary for proper diagnosis and treatment, has become a distant doctor-computer-patient relationship,” psychiatrist Carole Leiberman tells Judy Mandell for The Observer. “If a patient doesn’t feel a connection to his doctor that encourages him to confide, and the doctor doesn’t have time to ask enough questions about the patient’s lifestyle, symptoms, and so on, then the proper diagnosis can’t be made, and the proper treatment can’t be prescribed.”

However, recent studies of students who did engage with the families of donor cadavers found that many students actually want to know more about the people from whose bodies they learn the basics of human anatomy. It turns out that when it comes to the bodies doctors treat, a little empathy can go a long way for bodies treated by doctors — and doctors themselves.

Ronald Reagan on the cover of Time magazine, November 9, 1981

National Portrait Gallery
Time’s 1981 cover story, “AWACS—He Does It Again,” noted that the president had won Senate approval for sending radar planes to Saudi Arabia and went on to discuss his first-year legislative victories. Reagan’s priority was restoring an economy then viewed as the worst since the Great Depression, which baffled economists because of simultaneous recession and inflation. His program—reductions in taxes, regulations, and spending—had to pass the Democratic Congress and survive a classic struggle between a conservative president and a powerful, liberal Speaker of the House, Thomas P. (“Tip”) O’Neill. O’Neill dismissed Reagan’s prior relationship with a Democratic California legislature as “minor league.” Their first-name basis and swapping of Irish jokes papered over their intense battles. Reagan was only able to reduce the rate of increase in federal spending, and his first budget in January 1982 projected a deficit of $91.5 billion. But with support from sixty-three Democrats, he won a substantial, across-the-board decrease in income taxes.

Royals Prove Inbreeding Is a Bad Idea

Smithsonian Magazine

Those jokes about inbred royals might have some basis in fact, according to a new study in the journal PLOS One.

The Hapsburg dynasty ruled Spain from 1516 to 1700, reigning over the height of the Spanish empire. The dynasty ended when the last king, Charles II, who suffered physical and mental disabilities, died without issue despite two marriages. Inbreeding had been thought to play a role in the family's extinction.

A group of biologists from Spain developed an extended pedigree of more than 3,000 individuals over 16 generations so that they could calculate the "inbreeding coefficient" of the Spanish Hapsburg kings. The inbreeding coefficient is a measure of relatedness between two individuals. Here's an example:

Take a first-cousin mating. First cousins share a set of grandparents. For any particular gene in the male, the chance that his female first cousin inherited the same gene from the same source is 1/8. Further, for any gene the man passes to his child, the chance is 1/8 that the woman has the same gene and ½ that she transmits that gene to the child so 1/8 X ½ = 1/16. Thus, a first-cousin marriage has a coefficient of inbreeding F =1/16.

The six kings of Spain married a total of 11 times. Nine of the marriages were "consanguineous unions in a degree of third cousins or closer." There were even two uncle-niece unions (eww). Over time, the biologists calculated, the inbreeding coefficient rose from 0.025 for Philip I, the founder of the dynasty, to 0.254 for Charles II. His inbreeding coefficient--0.254--is as high as that expected from a parent-child or a brother-sister relationship (double eww).

In addition to the high inbreeding coefficients, the biologists cited two other lines of evidence that inbreeding was the cause of the Spanish Hapsburgs' demise: First, the family experienced a high rate of infant mortality, with half of the children failing to reach age one (compared with 80 percent survival at that time in Spanish villages). Second, many of Charles II's disabilities and illnesses--short stature, weakness, intestinal problems, sporadic hematuria, impotence/infertility--could be explained by two genetic disorders, combined pituitary hormone deficiency and distal renal tubular acidosis. The probability that an individual would inherit two recessive traits would be extremely low, but inbreeding made that much more likely.

This wouldn't seem to have much relevance here in the present, except as an interesting side story in the history books. However, the authors note that consanguineous marriages account for 20 to 50 percent of all unions in certain populations in Asia and Africa and reach as high as 77.1 percent among army families in Pakistan. In those families, more than 60 percent of marriages are between first cousins.

Check Out These Gluten-Free Versions of Famous Paintings

Smithsonian Magazine

Going gluten-free might be a popular dieting tip these days, but humanity’s relationship with wheat goes way back. Farmers have grown that crop since the earliest days of agriculture. As such, it makes sense that food chock-full of gluten would show up in artwork created by masters ranging from Pieter Bruegel to Andy Warhol. But what would some of the world’s most famous paintings, photographs and movies look like if gluten was entirely taken out of the equation?

One tongue-in-cheek project is exploring that question. Arthur Coulet is the French artist behind The Gluten-Free Museum, a blog that takes classic and iconic pieces of art and makes them “gluten-free” by photoshopping away any trace of wheat or bread. The effect varies from piece to piece: sometimes the artwork looks just fine, but other times it becomes dramatically different.

As Annie Churdar writes for So Bad So Good:

Take Pieter Bruegel's I painting for example. Without the wheat, the painting becomes bare of any harvest or harvesters at work. The gluten free version just looks like one drunk guy passed out in a field all by himself. It's just weird.

The Gluten-Free Museum is filled with erased baguettes painted by Paul Cézanne, drained glasses of Guinness from vintage ads and tossed Samuel L. Jackson’s cheeseburger from Pulp Fiction. Coulet’s altered images show just how strange our history might be without wheat, but it also demonstrates just how important wheat is to human civilization.

"Our civilization is based on wheat," Coulet tells Gabriela Torres for the BBC. "There is a link between culture and agriculture."

But while Coulet gently pokes fun at the trendy gluten-free bandwagon, he hopes that his viral joke will expose people to art they had never seen before. "Everyone has seen Vermeer's 'Milkmaid', but who really looks at the bread on the table?” Coulet tells Torres. “This is a new way to look at well-known artworks and discover others.”

Image by Pieter Bruegel. (original image)

Image by Arthur Coulet. (original image)

Image by Jeff Koons, via Arthur Coulet. (original image)

Image by Arthur Coulet. (original image)

Image by Martin Parr, via Arthur Coulet. (original image)

Image by Arthur Coulet. (original image)

Image by Vermeer, via Arthur Coulet. (original image)

Image by Arthur Coulet. (original image)

Image by Willy Ronis, via Arthur Coulet. (original image)

Image by Arthur Coulet. (original image)

h/t Fast Co.Create

What to Drink in Bulgaria

Smithsonian Magazine

Spring fed springs

Spring-fed fountains are refreshing rest spots in the Bulgarian countryside. Courtesy of Alastair Bland

The sounds of a Muslim call to prayer echoed through the forest, surprising me as I lay in my sleeping bag in the dark woods just outside the village of Dospat, Bulgaria. Then I recalled having read that clusters of Turks live in the Rhodope Mountains—almost a million people, all told. Many, having faced prejudice, have changed their names. Yet their prayer calls echo proudly on.

I rode south out of Plovdiv into the Rhodopes five days ago—50 miles uphill, through Asenovgrad, Narechenski Bani and Chepelare, in case that helps you orient yourself. It was in the mountain resort town of Pamporovo while picking raspberries by the road that a local man who spoke English approached me and made small talk. I asked how I might maximize my chances of seeing a brown bear. “There are plenty!” he said, leaning back almost in exasperation at the sheer abundance of the things. “Just stick around.” That was four days ago and no bears have materialized, but it’s all right: The high country is reward enough, offering nights just cold enough to be cozy, a general sense of solitude and wildness all around, and ice cold water gurgling from the roadside fountains.

About these fountains: They are a marvel of local social infrastructure. There’s been hardly a mile along any mountain road without at least one stone emitting a spoutof spring water, pure, clean, free and safe to drink. People picnic by these fountains, collect their week’s water from them in five-gallon jugs, douse their heads under them after hiking through the woods all day looking for porcini mushrooms, dump their trash behind them and dunk their feet in them. For the cyclist, especially, these fountains are miracles of convenience; I have not purchased bottled water yet. Which makes me wonder how other people seem to get so thirsty here from simply driving their vehicles. What I mean is, I’ve several times seen cars pull over by these fountains and whole families come spilling out and clamoring for the water, all skirmishing and elbowing to have a slurp as though they had just stumbled out of the Kalahari.

Pine forests share the Rhodope Mountains with grassy pastures, wildflowers and grazing sheep—scenery favored by Bulgarian musicians as backdrops for their music

Sliced porcini mushrooms

Sliced porcini mushrooms dry in the sun in the village of Sarnitsa. The mushrooms will be packaged and shipped to Italy. Courtesy of Alastair Bland.

videos (apparent as I watch the local music channel in a Velingrad bar). Villages here are scattered, the streams clear, the cows thick on the highways. Nearly every yard has a beautifully tended garden, with vigorous beanstalks and giant tomatoes reddening in the sun. In many parts, the air smells of fresh sawdust, as logging is big business here. Coming into Dospa, I even passed a billboard showing a chainsaw, magnificent and splendid and awesome, at rest upon a massive tree stump—clearly an essential component of any ambitious lumberjack’s toolbox.

Today I awoke in the woods at the northwest end of Dospat Lake. The call of a new day, of new horizons, and of a hot cappuccino drew me from my moss-soft bed and back onto the Surly Crosscheck. First, coffee in town, then a melon and several bananas for breakfast, and again the endless road. I immediately climbed a thousand feet and at the mile-high pass shared a beer with several painters, at work on the outer walls of a church. Though I gave up on learning Bulgarian 10 days ago when I discovered that the language is written in Cyrillic, that didn’t stop us from discussing life’s simpler matters—like the mycorrhizal relationships between various tree species and mushrooms of the genus Boletus. In Italy, we agreed, porcini mushrooms grow among chestnuts; here, pines. I’ll be watching. I also managed a successful joke: I pointed at my bike and the gear strapped to it: “SUV,” I said, then pointed to my legs: “Motor.” Then to the giant blue bruise on my calf, injured ten days ago in my crash: “Problem mechanica.” Then I raised my beer: “Petrol!” Wide open laughter, a slap on my back, and more beer all around.

Fred Savage and “The Wonder Years” Cast Reflect on Why Their Show Still Matters

Smithsonian Magazine

One of the most memorable moments from “The Wonder Years” happens in the very first episode. Consoling Winnie Cooper following the death of her brother, 12-year-old Kevin Arnold wraps his green and white New York Jets jacket around her shoulders. That leads to a kiss, the first one in the lives of the characters (and also in those of the actors). That kiss set the stage for Winnie and Kevin’s relationship, which would be on and off from the show’s 1988 premiere to its finale in 1993.

Fred Savage, the actor who played Kevin, said that his mother held on to that Jets jacket and would often joke that it could wind up at the Smithsonian. That’s what happened earlier today, when Savage, his mother and other cast and crew members from “The Wonder Years” gathered at the National Museum of American History to donate the jacket and other artifacts related to the show.

“The first day of school was in that jacket, the kiss was in that jacket,” Savage said today at the American History Museum. “All the iconic moments from the first season, those are all in that jacket.”

“The Wonder Years,” which aired on ABC and was set in the 1960s and ‘70s, had a six-year run, with 115 episodes. Today’s donation also included an outfit worn by Kevin’s mother in the opening credits (during the barbecue shot), the wedding dress worn by Kevin’s sister, photos taken on set and studio tapes and a script that Josh Saviano, who played Kevin’s best friend, Paul Pfeiffer, had saved.

“I think the one character that really truly defines, of all of television and film, the best friend, I think it’s Paul,” said Saviano, now an attorney. The former actor almost lost his “Wonder Years” keepsakes in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy flooded his New York City storage unit. “Pretty much everything that was down there was utterly destroyed. It was completely submerged with brackish water for days,” he said, though he was able to salvage some items. “I could not bring myself to throw away the tapes and I could not bring myself to throw away the scripts.”

Today’s donation joins the museum’s popular entertainment collection, which includes materials from television shows such as “Captain Kangaroo” and “Happy Days.”

“Not only are you seeing the suburban daily life, but you are seeing camera shots of broadcasts of Apollo 13 episodes. You’re seeing ‘flower power’ vans,” entertainment curator Dwight Blocker Bowers said about the cultural significance of “The Wonder Years.”

The cast has reunited several times in recent weeks to promote the series’ long-awaited release on DVD. “There’s such a sweetness to it, and such a nostalgia, and it kind of just makes people happy,” said Jason Hervey, who played Wayne Arnold, Kevin’s older brother. As for his costumes, Hervey added, “with the exception of the jean shorts, I very much loved my wardrobe.”

Savage, now 38, said that even though “The Wonder Years” was set in the ‘60s and ‘70s and already filmed a quarter-century ago, the idea of looking back on one’s childhood is timeless. “We all try and remember those moments growing up,” he said. “We all have a box in our garage or in our bedroom in our parent’s house filled with mementos from that time—photos, team jerseys, clothing. Whatever it is, we all try to reconnect with our childhood.”

As for having a crush on Winnie Cooper, played by Danica McKellar, Savage said: “I think we all did.”

In recent years, Fred Savage has done producing and directing. Here, Savage in November 2014. (Byron Purvis/AdMedia/Corbis)

In recent years, Savage has moved behind the camera, directing and producing for film and television. He’s worked on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and the short-lived cult favorite, “Party Down,” which some people have said could be heading to the big screen. “We didn’t make many episodes, but that’s another show that just seems to resonate with people,” Savage said about “Party Down.” “There has been talk of a movie, so we’ll see. I don’t think there’s a script for it, but the fact that there’s even talk of that is very exciting.”

While Savage’s brother, Ben Savage, recently got a spinoff for his ‘90s show, “Boy Meets World,” Fred Savage said fans shouldn’t expect a continuation of “The Wonder Years.”

“He loves the show and my kids love it,” Savage said of his brother's work. “But I think for 'The Wonder Years,' in the title itself, it’s a finite period in your life…That time ends, and that’s what makes that time in your life so special.”

Unearthing Armenia’s Giant, Ancient Earthenware

Smithsonian Magazine

This is the first article in a two-part series on Armenian karases. Read part two.

The enormous 240-gallon clay vessel, or karas, was nestled snugly in the corner of Asli Saghatelyan’s maran (storage cellar) in Chiva, a modest village in the Vayots Dzor region of Armenia. Asli and her son Mushegh watched with curious faces as I beheld their egg-shaped earthenware with awe.

The Saghatelyans no longer use this forlorn family heirloom, the girth of which exceeds the width of the door’s frame. It belonged to the family’s now-deceased patriarch, who used it to make homemade wine through a traditional process of fermentation and storage that people in this region have used for millennia. At one point, the family possessed at least five of them. Today only two are still intact.

This scene of giant karases, now sitting dusty and idle for decades in the basements of Armenia’s villagers, is a strangely common one in this particular region. The villagers don’t use them anymore, but the pots are so large they cannot be transported it out of their homes without the karas being smashed, or the wall of the basement being demo-ed. You can imagine the residents of Chiva rarely choose the latter option.

Not even a half hour into my visit, a neighbor stopped by to investigate my foreign presence in the village. “Oh, that’s what you’re looking for? We also have karases. They’re in our basement!”

The karases I saw that day date back to mid-twentieth century, but it’s not the age of the Minasyans’ and the Saghatelyans’ pots that made them so interesting to me. It’s the threat of their extinction in the region. Karases have had an uninterrupted six millennia presence in this part of the world, but only in the last few decades, they’ve fallen into obscurity.

Boris Gasparyan, researcher at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, led the excavations of Areni-1. (Photo by Karine Vann, Smithsonian)

Boris Gasparyan, a researcher at the Institute for Archaeology and Ethnography (IAE) in Armenia’s National Academy of Sciences, who led the excavations at the now-famous Areni-1 cave complex, has spent much time pondering the phenomenon of karas.

His interest intensified after he and his team discovered one of the world’s oldest wine production facilities in Areni-1. The numerous clay pots uncovered at the site once held some of mankind’s earliest experiments in viticulture. Chemical analyses even allowed researchers to speculate that ancient peoples mixed wine and blood together, leading wine expert Tim Atkin to joke in 2012 when he visited the site, that it “gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘full-bodied wine.’”

The value of karases across millennia appears to be, judging by its morphology and physical evolution, defined primarily by their intimate relationship to wine. Gasparyan says that any other functions were secondary, though “people used them even as coffins!”

In the first millennium BC, in the Kingdom of Van (also known as the Urartian Kingdom), karases reached their peak—in size, technology, and quality. Wine had become a valuable commercial commodity since many neighboring empires lacked the ideal climates for growing grapes. “We can even compare wine to U.S. dollars,” Gasparyan said. “Wine was circulating. It had great value. It was money. It was not only for consumption.”

Urartian kings grew desperate to develop methods of storing their precious commodity in large quantities. Experimenting with clay forms, which had been the material used for storing liquids in many ancient civilizations, provided an immediate solution. Pottery eventually developed into a separate and thriving industry in Urartu, second only to agriculture, and just as the history of wine is critical to understanding karas, its relationship to clay is just as important.

Image by Photo courtesy of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Armenia’s National Academy of Sciences. When kingdoms were plundered, large karases were carried on carts pulled by war prisoners. This is depicted in ancient bronze carvings on the doors of Balavat in Urartu. (original image)

Image by Photo from Karmir Blour excavations from 1950s. Cuneiform inscriptions near the rims of each Urartian karas indicate its volume. (original image)

Image by Photos from Karmir Blour excavations from 1950s. The citadel of Karmir Blour, an Urartian fortress which contains hundreds of karases, half buried into the ground as per best-practice winemaking techniques of the time. (original image)

According to an article investigating Urartian karases by historians Leman Haupt and Grigor Khapantsyan in the 1950s, craftsmen would make six to ten karases simultaneously, using their fingers to shape ribs around the opening in an intricate process of coiling. But by far the most complicated element in making them, distinguishing the vessels from other clay-made instruments, was the process of drying and baking, which required an oven that could fit the enormous size of an Urartian karas.

Archaeological excavations in 1949 in the administrative and economic center of Teishebaini (Karmir Blour in Armenian) confirmed the advanced state of the Urartians’ karas making. In this famous site twenty minutes outside of Armenia’s capital, researchers found cellars containing rows and rows of hundreds of giant vessels, with cuneiform inscriptions on their rims indicating an intricate system of labelling volume. This cellar alone stored upward of 100,000 gallons of wine.

Karases maintained value long after Urartian rule. By the early twentieth century, one karas was worth an estimated three or four hundred rubles, about the cost of a cow. Since this was a large sum for most villagers, it was important to regulate an insurance policy. In 1184, Mkhitar Gosh devoted a chapter to karases in Datastanagirk, Armenia’s first legal document, providing purchasers with a clause that reads eerily similar to a one-year warranty.

When Armenians moved toward industrial winemaking in the twentieth century, demand for these traditional storage vessels inevitably decreased. Mass production in Soviet factories meant wine was now available in grocery stores. Domestic winemaking—and by association, karases—spiralled into obsolescence in Armenia’s developed areas.

Excavations in Shnogh, Lori Province, in 2009 revealed a thirteenth century winery. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Suren Hobosyan)

In Vayots Dzor and Armavir, regions historically tied to winemaking, rural communities continued using karas well into the 1990s, but the generation that used them is nearly gone. Asli Saghatelyan told me that after her father-in-law passed away, her children opted to use other methods of homemade wine production. “Different generations gained different interests. My son knows how to make wine using karas, but we prefer to use more modern technology, as the karas is quite a hassle.”

Professor Suren Hobosyan, head of the ethnography department at the IAE, can attest to those difficulties. In addition to the karas, he says there was an elaborate “kit” of vessels and instruments for domestic wine production. It takes forty days to make wine in the karas, and once it is sealed it will stay good for years. However, when you open it, you have to consume it very quickly—approximately ten to fifteen days—before it spoils.

For this reason, opening a karas became a ceremonial ritual. Many rural communities saved karas openings for weddings and other joyful events. Sometimes the opening was its own cause for celebration, and villagers would invite their friends and family to partake in the festivities.

Which brings us back to the last generation of giant egg-shaped pots waiting to be disposed of in villagers’ basements. Who, if anyone, still uses the karas today? How were Armenia’s Georgian neighbors able to retain this tradition and go on to gain international recognition for it? And, perhaps most importantly, is there anyone alive in Armenia who still knows how to make them?

(Photo courtesy of

Karine Vann is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn and a storytelling contributor to My Armenia, where she writes about Armenia’s rich natural and cultural heritage.

This Remarkable Charm Bracelet Chronicles a Life Inside a Concentration Camp

Smithsonian Magazine

A charm bracelet tells the story of the life lived by its wearer – where one has called home, who one has met, and the circumstances one has experienced. But for Greta Perlman, born a Czech Jew in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1904, her jewelry documents her four years surviving the Holocaust. It’s a remarkable artifact, one that Michael Tal, a curator at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, called “quite unique, and I have not yet come across one like it.”

Perlman assembled her bracelet, currently on view as part of the newly installed permanent collection at the Jewish Museum of New York, at Theresienstadt, the Czech “camp-ghetto” established by the Nazis in late November, 1941. The camp was largely a ghetto labor camp, a holding pen where Jews stayed before being deported to killing centers like Auschwitz. Theresienstadt’s horror was muted enough that the Nazis used it as a propaganda tool, beautifying it for an International Red Cross inspection in 1944, and making a propaganda film there later that year. Some 140,000 Jews—including numerous musicians, writers and artists—were held in Theresienstadt.

The Nazis deported Perlman to Theresienstadt on “Transport M,” one of the earliest such trips, on December 14, 1941, her 37th birthday. According to Claudia Nahson, a curator at the Jewish Museum, the 20 charms on her bracelet, made from brass, porcelain and wood and strung together on a cord, were either given to her as personal mementos, or bartered in exchange for food. Many charms have a connection to a man named Theo, whom Nahson considers a possible love interest of Perlman. (Although Perlman, whose maiden name was Aufricht, was married, her spouse, Hanus Perlman, was not listed with her in the paperwork detailing Transport M.)

Among these potentially romantic charms are one that contains a Star of David encircling the initial, “T,” as well as two brass charms that each contain a ceramic shard in the shape of a pentagon, one inscribed “Greta Terezin 1.IX.43” on its back, the other inscribed “Theo Terezin 1.IX.43” on its back. The date, written in the European format for September 1, 1943, had a special meaning for Greta and Theo.

“It is a Jewish tradition to break a china plate after a couple becomes engaged and agrees to the tna’im, or conditions of marriage,” says Nahson. “The two matching potsherd charms suggest that Greta and Theo may have become engaged [on September 1 1943] in Theresienstadt.”

Nahson adds that from Nazi records, Holocaust scholars know that on September 5, 1943, the Germans sent two large transports of 5,007 prisoners in total from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz. She deduces that Greta and Theo became engaged once they learned of the planned deportation. “It is possible that Theo was [deported to Auschwitz], though this cannot be confirmed,” she says.

Another charm, an oval badge, holds another possible clue to their relationship. It carries the profile of a policeman and the initials GW, for Ghettowache, or Ghetto Police, which the Nazis established among Theresienstadt inmates to keep order in the camp in December 1941. But after the spring 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising, in which Polish Jews revolted against the Nazis, the Ghettowache was disbanded; its members were deported to extermination camps. According to Nahson, between autumn 1942 and late summer 1943, a kitchen was set up in the Ghettowache barracks. Perlman “may have worked there and been given the badge then. [Theo] may have been a member of the Ghetto Police and perhaps gave her this charm before his deportation.”

Image by The Jewish Museum, NY, Gift of the Estate of Greta Perlman. (original image)

Image by The Jewish Museum, NY, Gift of the Estate of Greta Perlman. (original image)

Image by The Jewish Museum, NY, Gift of the Estate of Greta Perlman. (original image)

Image by The Jewish Museum, NY, Gift of the Estate of Greta Perlman. (original image)

Image by The Jewish Museum, NY, Gift of the Estate of Greta Perlman. (original image)

Image by The Jewish Museum, NY, Gift of the Estate of Greta Perlman. (original image)

Many of the charms have a direct connection to Perlman’s work in the kitchen, including a miniature cooking pot whose bottom is inscribed “14 / XII. 1941,” the date of Perlman’s transport to Theresienstadt. A triangular charm displays a stylized figure of a female cook stirring a pot, which forms Perlman’s transport number, M 433; another charm is in the shape of a miniature cooking ladle.

Then there are charms that appear to have other personal meanings, including a good-luck horseshoe; a charm that depicts the silhouette of a window with a potted plant (it evokes “the safety and tranquility of home,” says Nahson); and a miniature wooden clog, one of the few new articles of clothing available in the camp.

Other charms serve as stark reminders of life in Theresienstadt. One is in the shape of a comb, used both for personal grooming and to remove the lice that was widespread among prisoners, and another replicates the camp’s fortified gate and opens to reveal the inscription, “M 433 Perlman Greta,” thus capturing her dual identify as “individual and prisoner, set within symbolic doors she was unable to open”. A bit of comic relief is provided by a charm that is a miniature latrine, decorated with the initial “G.” Nahson called this “the sort of wry joke that was common among prisoners, expressing a desire for privacy in a place where they were dehumanized.”

Laura Hoepfner with her great aunt Greta Perlman and another relative. (Courtesy of Laura Hoepfner)

For Michael Tal, the Yad Vashem curator and director of artifacts at its museums division, Greta’s charm bracelet teaches him that in spite of the harsh conditions of incarceration, “Jews managed to create mementos and gifts decorated with symbolic depictions of their lives as prisoners in the ghetto.”

“The phenomenon of those who were imprisoned in the ghettos and camps fashioning mementos and small gifts for family or friends, whether on the occasion of a birthday or to mark some other event, was very common,” he adds, qualifying that he has never seen so many charms collected together on a single bracelet. “Generally, a craftsman or artist who was a forced laborer in a metal workshop had access to scraps of raw material and to tools that enabled him or her to create the mementos.”

These craftsmen, says Tal, would in turn receive a portion of the prisoner’s daily rations. To have an item that would express their identity, and provide a glimmer of hope necessary for survival, these prisoners had to forego sustenance of the stomach in favor of sustenance for the heart.

On October 4, 1944, Greta Perlman was transported to Auschwitz, and then later to Bergen-Belsen, where she was liberated; after the war, she immigrated to the United States. It’s not clear to Nahson how the charm bracelet itself survived the Holocaust, though she suggested Perlman might have hidden it in Theresienstadt when she was deported and later returned to retrieve it. It’s also unclear whether the charms were made into a bracelet during the Holocaust, or after.

Perlman, who died in 1975, bequeathed the bracelet to the Jewish Museum, along with a number of works of art made by other Theresienstadt inmates, both professional artists and amateurs. The story of her relationship with Theo, however, remained her secret. In the new exhibit, on display through August 5, the artworks she donated—a still life, cityscape and scenes from the camp—are on display in the same gallery as the charm bracelet, which is centered in the room. Visitors can use several iPads in the gallery to review detailed descriptions of each of the bracelet’s 20 charms.

To Greta Perlman’s great-niece, Laura Hoepfner, a 58-year-old from suburban Chicago, “The bracelet was a triumph of the human spirit—if you persevere enough, beauty will triumph over hate.” She sees the bracelet as an important artifact, a remainder to younger generations that “the Holocaust really did happen.”

What’s Actually New About Today’s Newfangled Birth Control Apps?

Smithsonian Magazine

Q: What do you call people who use the rhythm method?

A: Parents.

It’s one of the oldest birth control methods, and also one of the oldest jokes. The rhythm method, also known as natural family planning, involves tracking a woman’s ovulation cycle to determine when she can have unprotected sex without getting pregnant. As you can see from the joke above, it has a pretty bad reputation. And as you can see from statistics, that reputation isn’t unwarranted: The rhythm method is only 76 percent effective, according to Planned Parenthood.

That’s far worse than IUDs (more than 99 percent effective), birth control pills (91 percent for average use), condoms (85 percent for average use) and just barely better than the highly not-recommended pullout method (73 percent). It's no wonder that, on '90s TV sitcom Roseanne, a teenager who asked her mom if the rhythm method worked was told to “ask your brother.”

But recently, this much-maligned method has found itself in the spotlight—thanks to smartphone apps that help women track their fertility on their phone rather than on their own.

In February, the European Union approved one of these apps, called Natural Cycles, as a method of birth control for the first time. While no apps have yet been approved for medical use by the U.S. government, their popularity has been on the rise here, too: An Obstetrics & Gynecology study last year identified about 100 free, English-language apps that claim to help a woman track her period, get pregnant or avoid pregnancy.

(The inventor of Natural Cycles is looking into whether it could ever get approved in the states, where it’s also already available for download.)

Yet until now, there have been few peer-reviewed studies on how effective these birth control apps actually are at preventing pregnancy—and the limited research we have isn’t encouraging. One of the few, a 2016 study also published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, found that only four out of 53 period- and fertility-tracking apps and websites that the authors tested could accurately predict a hypothetical woman’s fertile window. Fortunately, that lack of data may be about to change.

This year, the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University began a study to test the effectiveness of one U.S.-based app, called Dot. Dot, which predicts when a woman might ovulate based on her period start date, has been downloaded 325,000 times since its debut in 2015 and currently has 53,000 active users, according to a representative for the company that developed it, Cycle Technologies. 

The institute plans to follow 700 enrolled participants for 13 menstrual cycles, or about a year. Participants will provide their period start dates through the app, as well as daily information about when they have sex, whether they use a barrier method or emergency contraception, and whether they become pregnant.

Testing these apps “is really important because there are so many out there that are based on extremely questionable grounds and that make claims that are not backed up by evidence,” says Dr. Victoria Jennings, the institute’s director and principal investigator. (It's important to note that Cycle Technologies and the institute do have some history together, so the study isn’t fully independent; the company originally asked the Institute to conduct the study, says Cycle Technologies' president, Leslie Heyer.)

Today's glut of contraception options and the sometimes overwhelming influx of data on them can leave some women confused about their best bet for preventing an unwanted pregnancy. We asked: what, if anything, is really new about these birth control apps?

How it works

Birth control apps use a variety of markers to monitor your fertility, including the date of your last period, your level of cervical mucus and the presence of certain hormones. One of the common fertility markers they monitor is basal body temperature, or the temperature of the body during rest. Natural Cycles, the app approved in the EU, primarily uses the latter. 

Using body temperature as a fertility indicator is nothing new. That’s because during “ovulation, your temperature goes up and stays up about half a degree,” says Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the Yale School of Medicine. Natural Cycles basically gives this method a technical update, recording temperature by using a special thermometer sensitive enough to monitor changes and using it to alert women to their fertility level.

While Minkin hasn’t personally reviewed the technology behind the Natural Cycles app, as she understands it, “they’re using basically basal body temperatures to help predict ovulation, and just sort of automating it for an app,” she says. Using a woman’s body temperature, the app tells her whether her risk of pregnancy from unprotected sex is high or low. When the risk is high, women who don’t want to get pregnant are advised to abstain from sex or use a condom or diaphragm. 

But there's a problem. “The crazy thing is that basal body temps are not that accurate as far as predicting ovulation,” Minkin continues. To be accurate, women need to take the test as soon as they wake up—if they go to the bathroom first, or get out of bed at all, they’ll mess it up. But even if a woman takes it right way, factors like illness, stress, alcohol consumption and irregular sleep patterns can still affect their temperature and their assessment of whether they’re ovulating. 

In terms of technical advances, Minkin says the most accurate way to pinpoint ovulation isn’t to test your temperature: it’s to get an ovulation predictor kit. These are basically urine tests that check for Luteinizing Hormone, or LH, which is released prior to a woman's period. When you see a surge of LH, that means you will probably start ovulating within the next 12 to 36 hours. (Natural Cycles can also keep track of this hormone, which is released prior to your period, but this is optional).

Automating your calendar

By contrast, Dot is a bit more retro than Natural Cycles and other body temperature apps. In short, the app is an algorithm-based variation on the rhythm method technique known as the “calendar method.” This method goes way back: One of the earliest known references to it is a fourth-century text in which a Christian theologian chastises couples for avoiding sex on fertile days. 

Yet instead of a woman calculating her “high-risk” days on her own, Dot promises to calculate them for her. 

Because sperm can survive in a woman’s reproductive system for up to five days, the app’s high-risk days are supposed to start at least five days before a woman’s predicted ovulation. Yet some medical professionals like Minkin are skeptical of calendar-based methods like this. Minkin says the kits still encounter the same problem as all rhythm method-related tests: none of them can reliably predict ovulation at least five days in advance.

So if a woman finds out via one of the tests that she’s ovulating early, and she’s already had unprotected sex in the past few days, Minkin says “those little guys [i.e. sperm] might be around.”

According to Minkin, we just don’t have the medical technology to accurately predict ovulation five days in advance, every time. Given this, there’s only so much an algorithm can do. “The problem is that you don’t ovulate exactly the same time every month,” she says. “Many women will be off several days as far as ovulation, and if you’re basing it on past history, you’re not going to necessarily catch each ovulation.” Factors like stress and illness can also impact when a woman gets her period.

Jennings says that Dot is not intended for women whose cycles are outside the 20 to 40 day range. “A woman who has extremely variable cycles probably would quite honestly would want to look for a different method,” she says. Leslie Heyer, the founder and president of Cycle Technologies, defended the app’s ability to accurately predict ovulation in most women, but did note that it is not recommended for women whose cycles vary by 10 days or more.

Similarly, Elina Berglund—the Swedish scientist who created Natural Cycles app—says she thinks her app’s ideal user “is a woman in a stable relationship who is planning to have children at some point, and who would like a break from hormonal contraception ahead of trying,” according to a description in The Guardian.

So for women trying to avoid pregnancy, it's important to keep in mind that birth control apps are still evolving and being tested. For now, as Jennings puts it: “If somebody says, ‘It would ruin my life if I got pregnant right now,’” that woman needs to get something more consistent, like an IUD. “I think that’s common sense,” she says. 

Mama Bats Literally Nudge Their Babies Out of the Roost

Smithsonian Magazine

Getting kicked out of the nest is an idiomatic way of describing one’s abrupt jump from their childhood abode and parental payroll into fledgling independence. But for one species of bat, the phrase might be literal.

In Gamboa, Panama, researchers studied hours and hours of footage of Uroderma bilobatum, better known as Peters’ tent-making bats. The team found that in the weeks leading up to the moment these furry flyers leave for good, their mothers start poking and prodding them to perhaps not-so-subtly hint that it’s time for the pups to hit the road.

Bats occupy a unique place in evolutionary history. The winged mammals fly like birds, yet they give birth to live young and nurse them. As a result, baby bats face a daunting enterprise no other living thing does: simultaneously weaning off their mother’s milk and fledging, or learning to fly. That’s a hefty dose of independence for one little bat.

Across the world, there are more than 1,300 species of Chiroptera, the only mammals capable of flight, according to Bat Conservation International. Bats account for about one-fifth of all mammals, making them the second largest order of mammals after rodents. But unlike rodents, scientists know surprisingly little about bats. There hasn’t been a lot of research done on the lifecycle of individual bat species from birth to death, primarily because such studies are huge undertakings and fieldwork can be messy and unpredictable.

But as bat species of all kinds face increasing threats to their existence, understanding how the animals behave from their first day of life to their last is invaluable.

“Knowing more about how these bats reproduce is important for their conservation,” says Mike Smotherman, a bat expert and biologist at Texas A&M who was not involved in the new study. “Knowing how far mothers carry their babies while they forage, and how the babies then learn to feed themselves, will be important in coming years to conserving not just this species but all bat species.”

Bat biologist Jenna Kohles, lead author of the paper published recently in the journal Plos One, began observing and filming tent-making bats in Gamboa at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute while she was still a student at Clemson University. She was able to capture live births on video—a rare feat in the field—and study the bats’ long journey to fledging, which can take more than 40 days to complete.

Peters’ tent-making bats get their name from a behavior that wild populations exhibit, altering the middle vein-like ribbing of banana tree leaves in order to make them flop into an A-frame, just like a tent. The population that Kohles studied in Gamboa likes to take up residence in the eaves of people’s homes. She observed more than 30 homes, with each house representing one roost. Each roost had anywhere from 2 to 73 individuals, usually with between 1 to 29 pups.

Tent-making bats under leaf. (Merlin Tuttle)

Most bats, including the bats Kohles studied, are born weighing nearly a third of their adult bodyweight. Mother bats only have one pup at a time because until their baby is ready to fly, the young one stays latched on to its mother’s body. Understandably, these strong moms are likely eager to ditch the extra weight as fast as they can.

Starting around day 25, Kohles noticed a strange and repetitive behavior. Around 30 minutes before the mothers were ready to take flight into the night and forage, they would start tapping their babies with their forearms repeatedly. When the mothers first started this nudging behavior, the babies would briefly stop nursing, perhaps flap about a bit, but then quickly latch back onto mom—sometimes detaching and reattaching several times during the half hour period of prodding.

“After analyzing all the video, the most exciting thing we saw was this nudging behavior,” says Kohles, who is now completing her masters at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. “It was something that hadn’t been described before. There’s not a lot of information about tactile communication in bats in general and certainly nothing like this about bat pups and their mothers.”

As the faithful day of fledging grew closer, the babies started to get the hint. The mothers didn’t need to nudge their young as much to signal that it was time to stop suckling, and the pups would detach and reattach fewer and fewer times until they finally flew the coop for good.

All in all, the nudging makes sense. As the pups start to reach adult size, they become harder and harder to carry. Before the babies were fully fledged, the moms appeared to take breaks from lugging their young around—behavior that became apparent when Kohles observed mothers foraging without their pups with them. Wherever the mothers left their young, they were clearly safe, because the adults always had their offspring with them when they returned to the roost for the day.

“I’m interested to know where the moms take the pups,” Smotherman says. “Really I’m dying to know where that is.”

Smotherman notes that the researchers were likely able to get a glimpse at what these bats are up to because the animals interact with human-made environments. The Peters’ tent-making bat is already adapted to coexist with humans, but as human influence and development spreads, the flying mammals' food source could be threatened.

“These bats, like many, will be affected by habitat loss,” Smotherman says. “This study is right at the crux of that because they’re studying roosting bats and their babies and how far they go for food. Ten years from now or so, there will be less food and they’ll have to travel farther to get that.”

Tent-making bat, Uroderma bilobatum bites fig fruit. (Merlin Tuttle)

Kohles says that in recent years, scientists have witnessed the population of Peters’ tent-making bats mysteriously shrinking in size. It could be that the bats simply got fed up with people who don’t respond kindly to bat droppings on their houses, Kohles jokes. Tent-making bats dine exclusively on figs, exacerbating the excrement problem, but they also spit out the seeds and play a crucial role as seed dispersers for the proliferation of the fig trees.

Kohles hopes to see the population bounce back in Gamboa, if only to improve the relationship between humans and their batty neighbors.

“Working in Gamboa gave me an opportunity to talk to people about why bats are not all bad, and they’re doing a service for us, and we do need them,” she says. “They make up one-fifth of all mammal species—it’s no wonder that they play such an important role in our ecosystems."

This New Mexico Petroglyph Might Reveal an Ancient Solar Eclipse

Smithsonian Magazine

In 1992, archaeoastronomer Kim Malville was helping lead an expedition of archaeology students in the Chaco Canyon area of New Mexico, once a metropolis of Pueblo society replete with intricately built stone houses. One of his students noticed something unusual carved into the surface of the rock. "It was covered in a number of petroglyphs," Malville recalls, "one of which was this very strange circular dot with hairs coming out the edge of it. People thought it was a bug or a tick."

"I joked that only a solar astronomer could find that beautiful," says Malville, who is now retired. What made that petroglyph, or rock drawing, so beautiful to Malville was its striking resemblance to a phenomenon he had grown quite familiar with in his work as a solar astronomer before he turned to archaeology: a coronal mass ejection.

The Sun's corona is the super-hot aura of plasma that surrounds our star like a crown or halo. This charged layer of gas extends thousands of miles into space above the Sun’s surface. A coronal mass ejection is essentially what it sounds like: a large ejection of plasma from the Sun's corona into space, usually caused by a solar flare or other outburst from the Sun's surface. This plasma is vaulted away from the Sun in an arc that appears to rise up and snap, launching charged gas at speeds of hundreds of miles per second.

The Sun’s corona is bright, but far dimmer than the surface of the star, meaning it's usually invisible to the naked eye. However, there is one time when the corona becomes starkly visible. When the Sun's light is blocked by the Moon moving in front it during a solar eclipse, it becomes possible to see the corona is brightly snaking out from the edges of the shadow where the Sun once shone. During a solar eclipse, it is also be possible to see the tendrils of a coronal mass ejection, silhouetted against the sky.

To Malville, the petroglyph etched into the side of Piedra del Sol was almost certainly a depiction of such a striking celestial event by a Pueblo artist. "This pictrograph is unique," Malville says. "There's no other kind of rock art object that I know of that has this shape to it."

The corona as seen in November 2012, the last time a coronal mass ejection coincided with a solar eclipse (Nicholas Jones / Flickr)

In a study published in 2014 in the journal Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry, he set out to prove a connection between what he saw in the rock carving and what the heavens were doing at the time. If the petroglyph did indeed depict an eclipse, he thought, it could shed light on the special relationship that existed between the Pueblo people and the Sun. 

Based on calculations of the orbits of the Moon and Earth, Malville notes that a total solar eclipse was visible in the Chaco Canyon area on July 11, 1097, around the height of the area's development. However, this alone didn't prove that the drawing on the petroglyph actually showed a coronal mass ejection. That’s because the chance of both a solar eclipse and a coronal ejection occurring in tandem are slight.

"We can list on one hand the number of times a coronal mass ejection has been observed during an eclipse," Malville says, noting that the most recent occurrence happened in 2012.

One of the few previous observed occurrences was in 1860, when a Spanish astronomer managed to sketch out a coronal mass ejection during a solar eclipse. That drawing that strongly resembles the Piedra del Sol petroglyph.

A drawing of a solar eclipse in July 1860 by astronomer Gugliemo Tempel also appears to show a coronal mass ejection (University of Colorado)

To prove his hypothesis, Malville collaborated with astrophysicist José Vaquero, who specializes in reconstructing the solar activity of the past using evidence left behind on the Earth. Unlikely as it sounds, one of the clues Vaquero uses is trees.

When the Sun's rays strike atoms in Earth's atmosphere, they can create radioactive molecules called radionuclides, including the radiocarbon used in dating organic material. Those radioactive molecules get bound up in living matter, like trees. By analyzing how much radiocarbon is left in samples of tree rings dating back to a certain year, scientists can extrapolate how much energy the Sun was shooting toward Earth's atmosphere at that time. A more active Sun is much more likely to be shooting off coronal mass ejections regularly.

Vaquero's analysis found that the Sun reached a maximum of activity in its cycle of magnetic activity in the year 1098—just one year before the Chaco Canyon eclipse. This means that the Pueblo people that year saw a Sun in a state of "great unrest" being blocked out by the Moon, Malville says, making a coronal mass ejection during the eclipse a strong possibility.

There is a common belief in modern times that before the advent of modern science and astronomy, eclipses were considered an ominous event and viewed with terror. Malville strongly disagrees with this trope. He points to the Piedra del Sol petroglyph as evidence that this event wasn't feared but rather revered as an example of the “power and sacredness of the Sun.” After all, he says, it appears that an artist took the time to sketch it as it happened instead of cowering in fear and later painstakingly carved into a sacred rock in the community.

"It looks like it was done sort of lovingly," Malville says. "I think it was celebratory, and I think that's pretty common with most eclipses in the past."

In a Small Village High in the Peruvian Andes, Life Stories Are Written in Textiles

Smithsonian Magazine

In the shadow of the 20,800-foot snow-clad peak of Ausangate in the southern Peruvian Andes, Maria Merma Gonzalo works at her loom, leaning back on a strap around her waist, just as her ancestors have done for centuries. She uses a wichuna, or llama bone pick, to weave the images of lakes, rivers, plants, condors and other symbols of her life into the colorful alpaca fabric she is making. For Maria and the Quechua people, Ausangate encompasses far more than its distinction as the highest peak in southern Peru; it is a mountain spirit, or apu, held sacred since Inca times. “Because of Ausangate,” she says, “we all exist. Thanks to Ausangate, there are plenty of animals and food. We give him offerings, and he gives us everything in return.”

Her weavings capture both the sacred and everyday symbols of life in Pacchanta, a small village 80 miles southeast of Cusco. She and other Quechua women place the stories of their lives into textiles, communicating and preserving important cultural traditions. This is how memories are most vividly remembered.

For many centuries textiles have been an integral part of Quechua daily life, from birth to death. Babies are wrapped with thick belts, covered with cloth and carried on their mother’s backs in handwoven carrying cloths. Three- and four-year-olds learn to spin yarn. By eight, girls start weaving belts and soon move on to more complicated textiles, such as llicllas (women’s shoulder cloths), ponchos and kaypinas (carrying cloths).

Pacchanta is a stable community blessed by its proximity to cold, mountain glaciers, their mineral-rich runoff irrigating fields that yield particularly flavorful potatoes for making chuño, or freeze-dried potatoes. At 14,500 feet, villagers live in stone and sod houses, although they do not consider them homes as Westerners do. Houses provide only shelter and a place to store goods, eat and sleep. Days are spent primarily outside, tending extensive herds of alpacas, llamas and sheep, which supply them with fibers for weaving, dung for fuel and a regular source of food. In Pacchanta, the Quechua still follow the organizing principles established for harsh high altitudes by their Inca ancestors such as ayni (reciprocity), mita (labor tribute), ayllu (extending social networks) and making pagos (offerings to the mountain gods).

The grandfather of Maria’s children, Mariano Turpo, moved here in the 1980s during the reorganization of the Spanish colonial agricultural system, when the Hacienda Lauramarka was dismantled after a national agrarian reform that began in 1969. Villagers knew him as a respected altomisyoq, or the highest level of Andean ritualist, one who could converse directly with the mountain spirits on behalf of the people.

Maria, like Mariano, is well known in the region, as one of Pacchanta’s finest weavers. Knowledge of motifs and the skill to weave fine cloth increases not only a woman’s status but also her ability to provide for her family. Trekkers ending their hikes around Ausangate at Pacchanta’s bubbling hot springs like to buy these beautiful textiles.


While learning to write in rural schools is a valued accomplishment, weaving is the community’s favored form of expression. Speaking in a strong voice with her eyes fixed on the threads that must stay taut, Maria says that writing is “sasa,” which means “difficult” in her native language of Quechua and that of her Inca ancestors. She learned her expert skills and vocabulary of designs from her mother, Manuela, and her aunts, who in turn had learned from their own mothers and aunts.

For Quechua people, the act of weaving is both social and communal. The entire extended family gathers outside as the looms are unrolled, the weavings uncovered and work begins. For many hours during the dry season, the family members weave, joke and talk while also keeping an eye on children and animals. Maria’s granddaughter, Sandy, and the younger nieces started out working on toe looms making belts and later bags without designs. They eventually graduate to more intricate and larger textiles, mastering the difficult task of leaning back with exactly the right tension to create straight rows and even edges.

In Pacchanta, as is traditional throughout the Andes, Maria taught her daughter Silea the designs in a particular sequence, as Manuela had taught her. The designs, or pallay (Quechua for “to pick”), help people remember their ancestral stories, as they are constructed one thread at a time. The younger girls often count aloud the pick-up patterns in Quechua numbers, hoq (1), iskay (2), kinsa (3), tawa (4) and so on, as they memorize the mathematical relationships of the pattern. So Maria and her sister Valentina taught Silea and the other girls how to prepare the warp by precisely counting each yarn so the pallay could be carefully lifted with her wichuna, before passing the weft thread to securely join the loose yarns into a textile. An entire visual nomenclature exists solely for colors, sizes and shapes of glacial lakes, such as Uturungoqocha and Alkaqocha, which serve Pacchanta as natural reservoirs.


Weaving of fine textiles remains the province of women. Many aspects of life in Pacchanta are defined by gender, especially during planting season, which begins on the day after the September full moon. All the villagers understand about coordinating planting with the phase of the moon in the late dry season, just as their Inca ancestors did, as described in the Spanish chronicles by Garcilaso de la Vega in 1609. Maria’s sons, Eloy and Eusavio, and their uncles till the earth with traditional chakitajllas, Andean foot plows, while Maria and the other women follow, inserting seeds and a fertilizer of llama dung. For Quechua, during planting time the fertility of pachamama (Mother Earth) is strengthened by the balance of men and women working together to encourage good crops.

A women’s rectangular handwoven shoulder cloth or lliclla contains the bright beadwork favored by some Pacchanta weavers, which includes white beads (pini), ric-rac trim (qenqo), and sequins, to mimic sunlight shimmering off a lake. (Courtesy Andrea M. Heckman)

Still, men are involved with some aspects of textiles. Eloy, for instance, knits chullos, or Andean ear-flapped hats. It is a man’s duty to make his son’s first chullo so if a man cannot knit one, he must barter with another man. Men also make ropes and weave the coarser bayeta sheep’s wool cloth for pants and polleras skirts. While Eloy and Eusavio understand many Quechua names for Pacchanta weaving designs, they defer to the older women, as other men do, if disagreements arise about designs. Women are considered the final authority on their community’s design repertoire, as they relate to Quechua mythology and are responsible for instructing the next generation.

Quechua hands rarely stop moving. Whenever Silea walked to the nearby village of Upis, bearing loads inside the woven carrying cloths called kaypinas, her hands constantly spun yarn from fleece on a drop spindle wooden staff about a foot long with a weighted whorl. Manuela, even in her late 80s, was the finest spinner of all, but every family member spins alpaca and sheep fibers into yarn using a puska, or pushka, a name derived from the spinning motion of the spindle.  

At Maria’s house, three generations of women stay busy cooking, feeding the guinea pigs, embroidering details on cloth, throwing pebbles at the herd, or whirling a sling to make a noise to move the animals. Guinea pigs are Quechua garbage disposals, not pets, and an Andean culinary delicacy. When Maria sponsors a wedding, festival, or baptism, the fattest ones are roasted and seasoned with huatanay, (Peruvian Black Mint), a cross between basil, tarragon, mint and lime. Rituals mark passages in Quechua lives, such as the first haircut: in highland communities, a rite as important as baptism.

In the late afternoon, family members eat a hearty evening meal of chayro (a nutritious soup supplemented by vegetables from markets down the valley), boiled potatoes and a steamy maté of coca or another local mint known as munay. The evening fires are ignited against the cold by blowing into a long tube or piece of bamboo on the embers of the smoldering dung coals. Quechua value a strong work ethic, a virtue that stretches back to the Inca. They rise with the sun and go to sleep when night falls.

Depending on remaining sunlight and warmth, Maria and Manuela sometimes go back outside to weave or embroider until the light disappears, often accompanied by Silea. On one such occasion a few years back, Manuela looked over a poncho that her granddaughter had woven and said, “Allin warmi,” which means “You are a good Quechua woman because you have become an accomplished weaver.”

When Manuela died of old age several years ago, Maria became the family matriarch. Since then, tragedy has hit the family. A lightning bolt struck 25-year-old Silea as she walked to Upis, as she had done for years. When death comes, Quechua people wrap their loved ones for burial in their finest cloth, the culmination of a life of connection with textiles. From an infant’s first breath to her last, beautiful textiles provide not only warmth, love and consolation but also a tangible sacred knowledge that they connect to a strong tradition of proud people stretching back centuries.

Today, outside the village of Pacchanta, when Maria unrolls her loom and begins weaving, she conveys to her daughters-in-law, granddaughters and nieces a sense of Quechua identity through the intricate designs of their ancestors. The majestic sacred mountain looks on just as it has for centuries past.

Behind the Scenes at the National Zoo With the World’s Most Dangerous Bird

Smithsonian Magazine

In the years he has spent looking after the National Zoo’s cassowary, Eric Slovak has never found himself on the receiving end of one of her assaults. That’s impressive, because she's an uncommonly monstrous creature.

Imagine an ostrich as described by H.P. Lovecraft, or maybe a turkey fused with a velociraptor. Weighing in at close to 150 pounds, she stands on powerful reptilian legs that let her stretch to six feet tall when she needs her full height. Though flightless, the cassowary is covered in a coat of long black feathers, against which her brilliant blue visage—crowned by a towering, keratinous casque—stands out like a symbol in a dream.

The feature she and her kind are best known for, however, is not her plumage. It’s her toenails: On each three-toed foot, one nail is longer than the rest. At five inches, it’s probably the closest thing you’ll find in nature to a railway spike. It isn’t particularly sharp, but it is deadly.

“If I come running at you at 100 miles per hour with a butter knife, it’s going to go right into you,” Slovak, the bird’s genial and tattooed primary keeper, tells me. When threatened, cassowaries can lash out with blinding speed, nail first. Those kicks can disembowel humans and other animals in an instant, earning the elusive, rainforest-dwelling species a reputation not just as a dangerous bird, but as the single most dangerous bird on the planet.

That might explain the black-and-yellow warning placard on the door of the cassowary pen at the National Zoo that reads: “Caution: Aggressive bird. Do not enter without a keeper present.”

Such signs are just one part of a complex array of precautionary security protocols which together have ensured that for decades no human, including Slovak, has entered her pen while she was out and about in it. Cautious and defensive creatures, cassowaries rarely attack without provocation. But the best way to avoid provoking them is to keep your distance. Accordingly, when Slovak or others visit her, they’re always separated by fences and walls.

Recently, I sat with him and an assistant while they passed chunks of large chunks of fruit—which she would snap up in her beak and swallow whole—through a small porthole in one such barrier. Safe as we were, there was no ignoring her fascinating menace.

Even when another cassowary lived in the enclosure next door, the zoo kept the two apart. They could see each other primarily through a heavily reinforced windows in their respective sheds. A personable emu named Darwin resides there now, and the two sometimes sleep next to each other, despite the fence that divides them. Yet while they seem to enjoy each other’s company, the cassowary sometimes takes a swing at the window. When she does, the whole building shakes.

“I don’t know why she does it,” he told me recently. “I’ve seen her kick the trees in her yard too. Maybe it’s just to test her weapon.”

The cassowary silhouetted against her pen. (Eric Slovak / National Zoo)

Where the cassowary is concerned, separation and intimacy might be paradoxically entwined. Because he can never get too close, Slovak says he’s learned to observe her even more closely than he might another bird—and come to know her unusually well in the process. Of course, Sara Hallager, the zoo’s curator of birds, adds that the keepers have a relationship with “every bird out here, except perhaps the flamingoes.”* But not many other birds are six-foot-tall murdermachines.

Few are better positioned to speak to the cassowary’s temperament than Hallager, who looked after her when she first arrived at the zoo in the early ‘90s. Back then the bird wasn't quite newly hatched, but still very young and far smaller than she is now. Hallager shows me a photo taken in the spring of 1992, one that shows her looming over a small mound of feathers. “She was a sweet little bird,” Hallager says. “She would sit in my lap, and she liked to be petted.”

Cassowaries are almost adorable when they’re young, their brown feathers sometimes striped like watermelons. They don’t take on their more monstrous appearance until they grow large and powerful enough to defend themselves. One day, before her adult coloring had come in, Hallager noticed that her charge’s companionable nature had begun to change. “I remember going in, and she displayed the first sense that she was a cassowary. She kicked. She didn’t kick me, but she kicked at me,” Hallager recalls. At that point, she went to her then-supervisor and said, “Okay, I think we need to stop going in with her.”

While the cassowary has mellowed in the 20-odd years since, neither Hallager nor her fellow keepers have violated that dictum. Today, when they want to weigh her, they rely on a scale hidden under the straw and sand in her shed, studying its readings remotely. Medical inspections take place from afar: Even when the animal is trying to hide its illness, “you kind of know when your bird is off,” Slovak explains.

While it can be strange to call the veterinarian on what amounts to an intuition, Hallager adds, everyone involved understands that it’s the right approach. “Because the keeper knows the bird so well, the vet knows that’s an accurate reading of that animal,” she says.

At feeding time, Slovak and his keepers speak to the bird in high pitched voices, much as you might your cat or dog. She even has a variety of "pet" names: Hallager has long called her Earlina, in deference to a confused child who once pointed at the two cassowaries and, presumably confused about their gender, announced, “That’s Earl!” Over the years, other keepers have sometimes referred to her as Apples, largely to differentiate her from the the zoo’s other cassowary, who disliked the fruit. After that bird moved to another zoo, Slovak started simply calling her "Cassowary." But when he says it, you can hear the capital letter—and you can tell he’s speaking to and of this bird.

In more than two decades, no one has entered the cassowary's pen while she was out and about. (Jacob Brogan)

Yet even those who know the zoo’s cassowary best still sometimes find her strange. Slovak has gradually trained her over the years, so that she now sometimes comes when he calls (though her keepers try not to make her do anything against her will). But that doesn’t mean that she’s domesticated, he says. Hallager agrees. Even though she was born in captivity, this strange bird “still has that mysterious aura about her—that prehistoric, dinosaur-walking-through-the-rainforest-quality," she says.

The dinosaur comparison is familiar for those who admire cassowaries. In her book Birdology, naturalist Sy Montgomery devotes an entire chapter to the topic, arguing that cassowaries help illuminate the reptilian ancestry of all avian species. Yet these birds are mere evolutionary holdouts; they adapted to their own environments long ago. Accordingly, they’re actually further from us than the ancient beasts they resemble—a fact that makes the connections they forge with their keepers that much more remarkable.

That bond seemingly goes both ways. Though it’s been years since Hallager was a daily presence in the cassowary's life, she believes the bird knows her, recognizes her. “I feel like she needs and wants that interaction,” she says. According to Slovak, there are concrete signs of this mutual recognition. Sometimes, when he or Hallager approach, Earlina will crouch down in her brooding pose, much as she might for a male while preparing to breed.

Peculiar as such behavior seems, it’s likely a partial consequence of the fact that she’s long been deprived of contact with other members of her species. But that fact is soon to change. In the year and a half prior to my visit, Slovak and his colleagues have been gradually preparing to send Earlina to a zoo in San Antonio. There, in accordance with the larger cassowary species survival plan, she’ll be partnered with a male bird that Slovak already optimistically describes as “her boyfriend.”

Preparing Earlina for that trip has been a slow and arduous process. Cassowaries are known for their caution; the last two syllables of their name, Slovak jokes, are accidentally apt. After studying how other zoos accomplished similar transitions, he has been gradually crate training her. He first enticed her to stand on a wooden platform, where she would “do the hokey pokey,” putting one foot on to snatch food and then dancing back. As she grew more comfortable, he added one wall, then another, then a roof and a rear door.

Hallager feels that Earlina’s departure is necessary, since it’s important to give her the chance to mate, especially as her own status has become more central to the survival of her species. “She’s never had that opportunity. I feel she deserves that,” Hallager tells me, “deserves to be a normal cassowary. She deserves to live in a warmer climate as she gets older.” And yet it’s not easy to see her go. After 27 years with Earlina, Hallager was already mourning their parting when we met.

“We know that we’re sending her to an institution where there’s a breeding male,” she says, wistfully. “But of course I’ll be sad. Of course.”

Editor's note October 7, 2016: An earlier version of this article stated that Sara Hallager was the Zoo's keeper of birds; she is the curator.

Why Winemakers are Turning to Falconry to Tackle Pests

Smithsonian Magazine

It is late summer afternoon, and a sudden silence descends upon Bouchaine Vineyards in California’s Napa Valley. Moments earlier, a trio of songbirds sat chirping and pecking away at a cluster of ripe Chardonnay grapes that dangled from the vine at the 84-acre wine estate. Now the only sound is that of their wings flapping in the afternoon breeze. The reason for their quick departure is soon apparent as a falcon swoops down from the cloudless sky and lands on his master’s forearm, which is sheathed in a thick, elbow-length leather glove.

“Good job, Ziggy,” Rebecca Rosen tells the bird. As a reward, she produces a chunk of raw chicken, which the falcon devours in a single bite.

Rosen is a falconer and owner of Authentic Abatement, a firm specializing bird-control services in Napa Valley that counts a half-dozen vineyards in the area among its clients. Her falcon Ziggy is a “lure bird,” meaning his job is to scare off pest birds like starlings from the area—not hunt them. Rosen has trained Ziggy—a hybrid prairie-gyrfalcon named for the classic 1972 song, album and alter ego of rock legend David Bowie—to follow a piece of leather attached to a length of cord that she swings back and forth over her head. The lure’s movements mimic that of a bird, driving the falcon to do multiple sweeps of the vineyard.

“I love the relationship I have with the birds,” Rosen explains. “They have become my family when I’m away from mine.”  

The vineyards love Rosen’s birds, too—and running one is no joke: Here in Napa Valley, the heart of winemaking country, wine sales bring in more than $13 billion each year, meaning the stakes are sky-high for vintners to protect each lucrative harvest. Vintners find themselves in a near-constant battle with insects, disease and other pests that threaten their business. Among the more persistent threats is that of grape-gobbling pest birds, which treat vineyards as an all-you-can-eat buffet and pose the risk of decimating entire crops, all in relatively little time.

Over the years, vintners have turned to a variety of newfangled deterrents to prevent that from happening—including noisy air cannons, ribbons of mylar tape, netting draped over the vines, speaker systems, even air dancers (those waving inflatable tubes you're likely to find gracing auto dealerships nationwide). But some are returning to a time-tested method that doesn't require fancy tech at all: falconry. The ancient avian sport, which is thought to have begun in the Far East around 1700 B.C., later came to be called “the sport of kings.”

In recent years, several falconry companies have sprouted up in the area as demand for driving out pests has continued to increase. It turns out that despite modern advancements, there’s nothing quite like a scary predator bird to keep other birds at bay—for good.

“Falconry is the one thing that no bird is going to get accustomed to,” says Rosen. “The last thing a bird wants is to be eaten.”

During each session, Rosen uses a lure to encourage her falcon to continue sweeping the vineyard to ward off pests. (Jon McPherson for Napa Valley Vintners)

Glenn Stewart, who directs the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group, part of the Seymour Center at Long Marine Lab within the University of California, Santa Cruz, has spent years working with peregrine falcons and other birds of prey. To Stewart, it makes sense that modern technology hasn’t yet devised a deterrent more effective than these natural predators.

Over the course of “thousands of years, something has become imprinted in [pest birds’] DNA,” he says. “It may not be the most scientific expression, but they know deep within their being that the wing beat and silhouette of a falcon is dangerous to them. They don’t even have to be caught or attacked, they just see the wing beat and silhouette over and over again, and they decide to go eat someplace else. That’s why [falconry] works. It’s a biological fact of life, that they are fearful of the falcons.”

Rosen has been practicing falconry for the past decade. After becoming a licensed falconer, she began driving out pests while under contract at area military bases and landfills. Ultimately, she shifted her focus to vineyards. Each year, she makes the 12-hour drive from her home base in Arizona to spend several months in California during harvest, often camping out at vineyards so she and her birds are ready to strike come sunrise. Her brood is nine birds strong, including both hybrids and peregrines, all of which she trained herself. 

During the harvest and the months leading up to it, the 34-year-old falconer pays visits to each property multiple times a week. Autumn is when the multi-billion dollar Napa Valley wine industry begins production, and is a pivotal time for most wineries. That makes it all the more pressing for vineyards to protect their crops from pests in this final stage.

Among Rosen’s devoted clients is Toby Halkovich, director of vineyard operations at Cakebread Cellars, located in Rutherford, California. Halkovich manages the 43-year-old winery’s 560 acres of vineyards, which are spread across six parcels of land throughout the valley. He says that Cakebread has been working with Rosen for the past several harvests, and had first learned about her services through word of mouth. (Rosen admits she’s found all of her clients this way.)

“We figured that if she’s professional enough to work at U.S. Air Force bases, that she’d meet our needs too,” he says. “She drops by a few weeks before harvest when the fruit starts getting sweet. In order for it to be effective, the birds we’re trying to chase out need to think that she is there all the time. The worst one is the starling, because it reproduces quickly and in high numbers. Plus, it has a high appetite for grapes. We’ll sometimes see millions of them in the valley.”

Rosen visits vineyards in Napa Valley with her falcons to rid them of songbirds, which like to snack on grapes. (Jon McPherson for Napa Valley Vintners)

Halkovich estimates that in the time that Rosen has been visiting Cakebread, he’s seen an 80 to 90 percent decrease in avian pests compared to years in which he’s used other types of deterrents. Falconry is “very effective,” he says. “The first time she came here, I had the opportunity to watch, and it was amazing to see how many birds scattered once they saw her falcon.”

Chris Kajani, general manager and winemaker at Bouchaine Vineyards and another one of Rosen’s clients, agrees. Kajani has seen a 40 percent decrease in unwanted birds within the first month of hiring her earlier this fall. “I’ll be working in the vineyard and as soon as the birds spot her Toyota pickup truck rolling in, you’ll see them rise up from different parts of the vineyard and fly away,” she says. “They’ve started to associate her truck with the falcons.”

So what is it about falconry that has made it one of the most resilient tools of pest abatement among vintners? Stewart, a fellow falconer, thinks he has the answer. “I’ve seen air cannons in action and I’ve even seen vintners use speakers where they play the recordings of starlings … and I’ll see [pest] birds walking around on the ground nearby,” he says. “You can have the sounds, but there are no consequences for the birds. The cannons may scare them away at first, but they soon learn that there are no shotgun pellets that come with, and within a few weeks they adapt and become used to it.”

But claws, talons and an ominous wingspan silhouetted against the sky—few birds can get used to that. Which is all the more reason for Rosen and her falcons to make the long drive to California each year. After all, this year's harvest is depending on them.

There Never Was a Real Tulip Fever

Smithsonian Magazine

When tulips came to the Netherlands, all the world went mad. A sailor who mistook a rare tulip bulb for an onion and ate it with his herring sandwich was charged with a felony and thrown in prison. A bulb named Semper Augustus, notable for its flame-like white and red petals, sold for more than the cost of a mansion in a fashionable Amsterdam neighborhood, complete with coach and garden. As the tulip market grew, speculation exploded, with traders offering exorbitant prices for bulbs that had yet to flower. And then, as any financial bubble will do, the tulip market imploded, sending traders of all incomes into ruin.

For decades, economists have pointed to 17th-century tulipmania as a warning about the perils of the free market. Writers and historians have reveled in the absurdity of the event. The incident even provides the backdrop for the new film Tulip Fever, based on a novel of the same name by Deborah Moggach.

The only problem: none of these stories are true.

What really happened and how did the story of Dutch tulip speculation get so distorted? Anne Goldgar discovered the historical reality when she dug into the archives to research her book, Tulipmania: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age.

“I always joke that the book should be called ‘Tulipmania: More Boring Than You Thought,’” says Goldgar, a professor of early modern history at King’s College London. “People are so interested in this incident because they think they can draw lessons from it. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case.”

But before you even attempt to apply what happened in the Netherlands to more recent bubbles—the South Sea Bubble in 1700s England, the 19th-century railway bubble, the dot-com bubble and bitcoin are just a few comparisons Goldgar has seen—you have to understand Dutch society at the turn of the 17th century.

For starters, the country experienced a major demographic shift during its war for independence from Spain, which began in the 1560s and continued into the 1600s. It was during this period that merchants arrived in port cities like Amsterdam, Haarlem and Delft and established trading outfits, including the famous Dutch East India Company. This explosion in international commerce brought enormous fortune to the Netherlands, despite the war. In their newly independent nation, the Dutch were mainly led by urban oligarchies comprised of wealthy merchants, unlike other European countries of the era, which were controlled by landed nobility. As Goldgar writes in her book, “The resultant new faces, new money and new ideas helped to revolutionize the Dutch economy in the late 16th century.”

As the economy changed, so, too, did social interactions and cultural values. A growing interest in natural history and a fascination with the exotic among the merchant class meant that goods from the Ottoman Empire and farther east fetched high prices. The influx of these goods also drove men of all social classes to acquire expertise in newly in-demand areas. One example Goldgar gives is fish auctioneer Adriaen Coenen, whose watercolor-illustrated manuscript Whale Book allowed him to actually meet the President of Holland. And when Dutch botanist Carolus Clusius established a botanical garden at the University of Leiden in the 1590s, the tulip quickly rose to a place of honor.

Originally found growing wild in the valleys of the Tien Shan Mountains (at the border where China and Tibet meet Afghanistan and Russia), tulips were cultivated in Istanbul as early as 1055. By the 15th century, Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire had so many flowers in his 12 gardens that he required a staff of 920 gardeners. Tulips were among the most prized flowers, eventually becoming a symbol of the Ottomans, writes gardening correspondent for The Independent Anna Pavord in The Tulip.

The Dutch learned that tulips could be grown from seeds or buds that grew on the mother bulb; a bulb that grows from seed would take 7 to 12 years before flowering, but a bulb itself could flower the very next year. Of particular interest to Clusius and other tulip traders were “broken bulbs”—tulips whose petals showed a striped, multicolor pattern rather than a single solid color. The effect was unpredictable, but the growing demand for these rare, “broken bulb” tulips led naturalists to study ways to reproduce them. (The pattern was later discovered to be the result of a mosaic virus that actually makes the bulbs sickly and less likely to reproduce.) “The high market price for tulips to which the current version of tulipmania refers were prices for particularly beautiful broken bulbs,” writes economist Peter Garber. “Since breaking was unpredictable, some have characterized tulipmania among growers as a gamble, with growers vying to produce better and more bizarre variegations and feathering.”

After all the money Dutch speculators spent on the bulbs, they only produced flowers for about a week—but for tulip lovers, that week was a glorious one. “As luxury objects, tulips fit well into a culture of both abundant capital and new cosmopolitanism,” Goldgar writes. Tulips required expertise, an appreciation of beauty and the exotic, and, of course, an abundance of money.

Here’s where the myth comes into play. According to popular legend, the tulip craze took hold of all levels of Dutch society in the 1630s. “The rage among the Dutch to possess them was so great that the ordinary industry of the country was neglected, and the population, even to its lowest dregs, embarked in the tulip trade,” wrote Scottish journalist Charles Mackay in his popular 1841 work Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. According to this narrative, everyone from the wealthiest merchants to the poorest chimney sweeps jumped into the tulip fray, buying bulbs at high prices and selling them for even more. Companies formed just to deal with the tulip trade, which reached a fever pitch in late 1636. But by February 1637, the bottom fell out of the market. More and more people defaulted on their agreement to buy the tulips at the prices they’d promised, and the traders who had already made their payments were left in debt or bankrupted. At least that’s what has always been claimed.

In fact, “There weren’t that many people involved and the economic repercussions were pretty minor,” Goldgar says. “I couldn’t find anybody that went bankrupt. If there had been really a wholesale destruction of the economy as the myth suggests, that would’ve been a much harder thing to face.”

That’s not to say that everything about the story is wrong; merchants really did engage in a frantic tulip trade, and they paid incredibly high prices for some bulbs. And when a number of buyers announced they couldn’t pay the high price previously agreed upon, the market did fall apart and cause a small crisis—but only because it undermined social expectations.

“In this case it was very difficult to deal with the fact that almost all of your relationships are based on trust, and people said, ‘I don’t care that I said I’m going to buy this thing, I don’t want it anymore and I’m not going to pay for it.’ There was really no mechanism to make people pay because the courts were unwilling to get involved,” Goldgar says.

But the trade didn’t affect all levels of society, and it didn’t cause the collapse of industry in Amsterdam and elsewhere. As Garber, the economist, writes, “While the lack of data precludes a solid conclusion, the results of the study indicate that the bulb speculation was not obvious madness.”

So if tulipmania wasn’t actually a calamity, why was it made out to be one? We have tetchy Christian moralists to blame for that. With great wealth comes great social anxiety, or as historian Simon Schama writes in The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age, “The prodigious quality of their success went to their heads, but it also made them a bit queasy.” All the outlandish stories of economic ruin, of an innocent sailor thrown in prison for eating a tulip bulb, of chimney sweeps wading into the market in hopes of striking it rich—those come from propaganda pamphlets published by Dutch Calvinists worried that the tulip-propelled consumerism boom would lead to societal decay. Their insistence that such great wealth was ungodly has even stayed with us to this day.

“Some of the stuff hasn’t lasted, like the idea that God punishes people who are overreaching by causing them to have the plague. That’s one of the things people said in the 1630s,” Goldgar says. “But the idea that you get punished if you overreach? You still hear that. It’s all, ‘pride goes before the fall.’”

Goldgar doesn’t begrudge novelists and filmmakers for taking liberties with the past. It’s only when historians and economists neglect to do their research that she gets irked. She herself didn’t set out to be a mythbuster—she only stumbled upon the truth when she sat down to look through old documentation of the popular legend. “I had no way of knowing this existed before I started reading these documents,” Goldgar says. “That was an unexpected treasure.”

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