Using specimens from the Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, researchers from the at McMaster University and the University of Sydney have mapped the genome of the 19th century cholera bacterium that killed millions of people during the 1800s. There are two genetically distinct biotypes of the main cholera strain, Vibrio cholerae. One of them, the classical, was dominant in the 19th century only to be overtaken by the other, El Tor, in the 20th century. Since cholera does its damage by colonizing the intestines rather than the blood, it doesn’t leave behind traces of its DNA in the teeth or bones. You can only find cholera bacteria in the intestinal soft tissues, and obviously they decay very quickly so although many cholera burial sites are known, there’s no use attempting to extract cholera DNA from historical remains.
That’s where the Mütter Museum’s remarkable collection comes into play. Founded in 1858 by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia around Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter’s collection of medical specimens, tools and oddities, the Mütter Museum contains a number of preserved specimens of intestines of cholera victims. One specimen, labeled 3090.13, holds a chunk of intestine from a man who died in the cholera epidemic that struck Philadelphia in May of 1849, killing 340,045 people in the city by the time it was finished. (The 1849 epidemic killed a total of 1,772,193 around the country.) The specimen was collected by Dr. John Neill for a study on the effects of cholera on the lining of the intestine. He delivered a report on his findings to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the specimens he displayed became part of the Mütter Museum collection a decade later.
Researchers took a small sample of the intestinal specimen and were able to extract sufficient DNA traces to map the entire genome of the bacterium. They were able to confirm that it was the classical biotype that spread in the 1849 epidemic, and that indeed it was responsible for five of the seven major cholera outbreaks since 1817. (Before this study only the culprit of the most recent two outbreaks was identified as El Tor.)
Using a sophisticated technique to extract, purify and enrich fragments of the pathogen’s DNA, the team collected precious genomic data, which answered many unresolved questions.
The researchers identified “novel genomic islands”, or genome regions that don’t occur in current strains. In addition, a well-known genic region involved in toxicity of the pathogen (a sequence called “CTX”) occurs more times in the ancient strain than in its modern descendants.
This may mean that this strain was more virulent, say researchers, but further testing will be needed.
Regarding the origins, the team’s calculations show that the classical strain and El Tor co-existed in humans and estuaries for many centuries, potentially thousands of years prior to the 19th century pandemics, and emerged as a full-blown infection in humans in the early 1800′s.
That’s not to say the 19th century is the first time the cholera bacterium made humans sick. Scientists believe the strains co-evolved in a water column in the Bay of Bengal for thousands of years before crossing over into people’s intestines around 5,000 years ago. This was a time of major transition, when the climate in Indian was drying up and causing formerly nomadic peoples to settle around water sources, farm the land and form communities. The population expanded and with more people comes more poop and contaminated water which then creates novel forms and bacteria and back and forth in the dizzying, endless waltz between pathogen and humanity.
This discovery underscores the importance of what may seem like dusty old useless pieces of people bobbing in specimen jars still held in museums, universities and hospitals all over the world. They may hold the key to the history of past epidemics and provide invaluable insight into diseases that still afflict millions of people.
It’s great to see the Mütter Museum still breaking new ground in medical research 156 years after it was founded for that very purpose. I think they should have a sale on their cholera plushie to celebrate their role in the mapping of the genome of its less adorable cousin.
It is with great sadness that the Gazette reports on the passing of Don Edmund the Lame.
Hail to gentles from far and near…as Estrella War XXX approaches, Atenveldt warmly greets you, and bids you welcome here!
A court has ruled that the Renoir landscape that went on sale for $100,000 last year after its owner claimed to have bought it for $7 at a West Virginia flea market belongs to the Baltimore Museum of Art from which it was stolen in 1951. The federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, agreed with the museum’s argument that established law holds “a thief cannot pass title to stolen goods even to an innocent purchaser,” and that therefore the would-be seller, once known as Renoir Girl but now identified as Marcia Fuqua, cannot hold title no matter how she acquired the painting.
According to Fuqua, she found Paysage Bords de Seine in a box along with a Paul Bunyan doll and a plastic cow in 2009 at the Harpers Ferry Flea Market and bought the whole box for $7. Three years later in July of 2012, she brought the painting to the Potomack Company auction house in Arlington, Virginia. Apparently her mother had told her to have it appraised and the gilded wooden frame had a plaque with Renoir’s name and dates on it, so Fuqua wanted to find out if it really was a work by the Impressionist master. The auction company researched the work and determined it was authentic, that it had been sold in 1926 by the Bernheim-Jeune gallery in Paris to Baltimore lawyer and art collector Herbert L. May.
There the trail appeared to end, but intrepid Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira dug deeper. He had the idea to look through the papers of Saidie Adler May, Herbert May’s wife at the time of the purchase (they were separated in 1924 and divorced in 1927) and a great collector in her own right who donated her art and personal archive to the Baltimore Museum of Art. Shapira found a note in her correspondence files recording the loan of Renoir’s Paysage Bords de Seine to the museum in 1937. There was a loan registration number on the record, and when museum director Doreen Bolger looked it up, she found an index card describing the history of the painting, its purchase and its theft from the museum in November of 1951. Further research found the original police report of the theft.
The museum alerted Potomack Company and three days before the auction was supposed to take place, the painting was withdrawn from sale. The FBI seized the painting and asked the federal court to determine who the legal owner was. The painting had been insured for $2,500 when it was stolen, and the insurance company did pay the museum for the loss so technically Fireman’s Fund Insurance would own title, but it gave up its claim. The auction house also took itself out of the running. Fuqua and the Baltimore Museum of Art were the only parties left.
Fuqua’s argument was that the museum’s documentation of the theft hadn’t been properly authenticated, but the court didn’t buy it. Fuqua now has 30 days to file an appeal of the ruling, but the decision was very clear cut and it’s very unlikely to be reversed. Besides, Fuqua may find it wise to let this whole thing go, because her flea market story hasn’t exactly stood up to scrutiny.
[A] number of people who know Fuqua have cast doubt on her flea market story, including her brother. Some family acquaintances told The Post that they remember seeing the Renoir in the 1980s and 1990s at the Fairfax County home of her mother, Marcia Fouquet, who attended art college in Baltimore at the time of the painting’s theft in 1951. (The mother passed away five months ago at the age of 85.) [...]
Matt Fuqua, Martha’s brother, who attended the hearing, was elated by the judge’s ruling and stood outside the courthouse before a bank of television cameras, giving interviews.
Before she died, his mother had urged Martha to return to the painting to the BMA, he said. “My mother wanted this.”
That’s like the third version of Matt’s story. The whole family has issues.
Anyway, the BMA is delighted by the outcome of the case and looking forward to the return of their prodigal Renoir. They’ll take possession after the 30-day appeal window closes. It will be examined by conservators first and then the museum plans to exhibit it in late March in a special installation.
Leonardo Da Vinci had more projects than time, a fact illustrated by his notesbooks of inventions never built, but Polish pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki recently took on one challenging by constructing da Vinci's viola organista, an instrument which combines "the bowed sound of a viola (or cello) with a cabinet that resembles a baby grand piano." (video)
So, you want to be the Pennsic Mayor? Bids for Pennsic 45 (2016) will be accepted until 1 May 2014.
Things got a bit noisy at the Copperas Cove Library recently when Anthony Schienschang brought his hammer and anvil for a demonstration of armoring. Schienschang is a member of the SCA, Stronghold of Hellsgate in the Kingdom of Ansteorra. Valerie L. Valdez of the Killeen Daily Herald (Killeen, Texas) has the story. (photos, video)
Greetings to all MOLs and Marshals,
I am now seeking applications for the position of Deputy Database Administrator for the East Kingdom Minister of Lists.
The deputy database administrator position is open to all members of the East Kingdom, not just marshals and MOLs.
Please send both Mundane and SCA resumes to Lady Sabina Luttrell.
Filed under: Fencing, Heavy List, Official Notices, Uncategorized
Researchers from Tsinghua University in Beijing have discovered the world’s oldest decimal multiplication table on 21 strips of bamboo made around 305 B.C., during the Warring States period before Qin Shi Huang unified China as the first Emperor of the Qin Dynasty. Old Babylonian cuneiform tablets have been discovered with mathematical tables, including times tables, from around 2,000 B.C., but the Babylonians used a local base-60 notation. The Chinese strips long pre-date the first known European decimal multiplication tables which are from the Renaissance.
The historic table was part of a large collection of 2,500 bamboo strips donated to the university five years ago. The donor had purchased them at a market in Honk Kong, but the artifacts showed the tell-tale signs of having been recently looted from a tomb. They were in abysmal condition — stinking and covered in mud and mold — and in no particular order. The strips are less than a half-inch in width at most and half a meter (just under 1’8″) long. Each strip has ancient Chinese calligraphy painted on the surface.
Deciphering them was no small task. After radiocarbon dating and conservation, researchers spent years puzzling together the strips which when knew were connected with strings forming a readable manuscript. Trying to figure out how such a massive collection of strips related to each other 2,300 years later with the strings long and gone and damaged or lost strips was like solving a jigsaw puzzle without a picture on the lid to go by and lots of missing pieces. Eventually they were able to figure out that the bamboo strips formed 65 ancient texts.
Twenty-one of the 2,500 strips stood out from the rest because they were painted only with numbers. Feng Lisheng, historian of mathematics at Tsinghua University, and his team found that when arranged in the proper order, those 21 strips formed a multiplication matrix, just like the ones in the back of notebooks when I was a kid.
As in a modern multiplication table, the entries at the intersection of each row and column in the matrix provide the results of multiplying the corresponding numbers. The table can also help users to multiply any whole or half integer between 0.5 and 99.5. Numbers that are not directly represented, says Feng, first have to be converted into a series of additions. For instance, 22.5 × 35.5 can be broken up into (20 + 2 + 0.5) × (30 + 5 + 0.5). That gives 9 separate multiplications (20 × 30, 20 × 5, 20 × 0.5, 2 × 30, and so on), each of which can be read off the table. The final result can be obtained by adding up the answers. “It’s effectively an ancient calculator,” says Li [Junming, a historian and palaeographer at Tsinghua].
And a highly versatile one at that, although there’s no way of knowing exactly which functions would have been used in what context 2,300 years ago. Possible practical uses of the table include calculating surface idea, crop yields and taxes. It could also have been used for theoretical math or teaching.
“The discovery is of extraordinary interest,” says Joseph Dauben, a maths historian at City University of New York. “It’s the earliest artefact of a decimal multiplication table in the world.”
It “certainly shows that a highly sophisticated arithmetic had been established for both theoretical and commercial purposes by the Warring States period in ancient China,” he adds.
It’s considerably more advanced than later times tables produced in the Qin Dynasty. Those tables date to between 221 and 206 B.C. and they’re simple sentences like the kind you recited in class of the “two times one is two, two times two is four, two times three is six” variety. You can’t really use sentences to calculate elaborate multiplications, never mind divisions, square roots, etc. in the same way you can with a matrix. Qin Shi Huang did a lot of book burning in his efforts to forcibly unify Chinese scholarship just as he had Chinese territory. Perhaps matrix multiplication tables were part of what was lost in Qin’s Procrustean reformation of China’s intellectual tradition.
The history of a stolen Roman ring and its discovery in the 18th century are the subject of a recent feature article in History Today by Lynn Forest-Hill, fellow of the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Culture, University of Southampton, theorizing that the ring may have been the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien. (photos)
Geoffrey and Catherine report that pre-registration for Pennsic War 43 is now open on the Pennsic Registration Office website. The pennsic War runs July 25 - August 10, 2014.
The Winter 2014 edition of Ars Scientia Orientalis, the quarterly Arts & Sciences publication for the East Kingdom is now available at http://aso.eastkingdom.org/issues/aso7.pdf.
This issue of ASO features:
Dolls in the 12th through 16th Centuries by Lady Lillian atte Valeye
Back issues can be found at the Ars Scientia Orientalis website (http://aso.eastkingdom.org)
Filed under: Arts and Sciences Tagged: a&s
Barry Ager, curator of the British Museum’s Early Medieval Scandinavian and continental Europe collection, has discovered a Celtic brooch dating from the 8th-9th century hidden among Viking burial artifacts found in the late 19th century and kept in the museum’s stores. The objects were excavated in Lilleberge, Norway, in 1886 by British archaeologist Alfred Heneage Cocks. The 9th-10th century burial was a long barrow 128 feet in length containing a 30 foot boat, grave goods and the skeletal remains of a high status woman. The artifacts included beaded necklaces, two oval brooches, a whalebone plaque decorated with horse heads that may have been a food serving tray, an iron grid, possibly used as a pot stand or as a boat fitting, a pottery spindle-whorl, plus iron rivets, nails and wood fragments from the boat.
Five years after the excavation, Cocks sold his collection of Lilleberge artifacts to the British Museum. Some of the objects were indeterminate, still encased in blocks of soil and organic matter from the excavation. They were kept in storage for more than a century and only recently been subject to further research. Their uncleaned condition has proven to be an archaeological boon since small organic fragments survived in the dirt and the kind of things that people paid no attention to back then are extremely valuable to researchers today.
Barry Ager was looking over the collection in anticipation of a visiting Norwegian expert researching the Lilleberge find when he noticed a piece of metal sticking out of a lump of organic material. He had the lump X-rayed to see what it might contain.
“It turned out, quite remarkably, to be this Celtic disc… It’s extremely exciting… It’s a very rare example of its sort within the collection… shows contact between the British Isles and Norway in the Viking period … objects seized as loot in this country and taken back.”
He believes that it was originally made in Ireland or Scotland, that it came from a shrine or a reliquary, and that the Vikings converted it into a brooch by attaching rivet holes and a pin.
The brooch couldn’t just be pulled out of the block because there are significant organic survivals — wood fragments, possibly from a box that held the brooch, and very rare Viking textiles from which three different patterns, including a herringbone, have already been identified — that needed to be preserved. Conservators painstakingly removed the brooch using scalpels to separate it from its context without damaging the fragile organics.
Once it was removed and cleaned, the brooch was found to be elaborately decorated and in excellent condition with its original gilded surface still shining. It’s six centimeters (2.3 inches) in diameter and engraved with a central roundel with three stylized dolphin-like heads looping around it.
“The …patterns, the quatrefoil of the central roundel and the form of the ‘dolphins’ heads have clear parallels in Celtic metalwork and manuscripts of the 8th to early 9th centuries, such as the Tara Brooch and the Book of Mac Regol,” Ager said.
He described the craftsmanship as “very fine” and said that the Vikings valued “eye-catching” objects: “The Vikings themselves were very skilled metalworkers, so I’m sure that’s something that would appeal to a Viking eye.”
The brooch will go on public display for the first time starting March 27th. It will join the exquisite beauties of Sutton Hoo in Room 41 of the British Museum when the gallery re-opens after refurbishment.
A recent article for Live Science analyzes the evolution of Little Red Riding Hood from its 1st century roots to its modern place in children's literature. The article follows the work of Durham University anthropologist Jamie Tehrani whose paper The Phylogeny of Little Red Riding Hood was published in the journal Plos One.
It is with great sadness that the Gazette reports on the passing of Don Edmund the Lame. He passed away on the afternoon of January 5, 2014, after a battle with cancer.
He was a common sight on the rapier field at Pennsic. He was known widely for his use of a two-handed sword of prodigious size, and was a member of House Bloodguard, regularly fighting in their colors. On hearing the news of Edmund’s passing, Duke Andreas Eisfalke Von Ulm, Hochmeister of House Bloodguard, had the following to say:
“Yesterday I lost a friend and household brother but only for a moment. Paul and I met at 30 Year Celebration in Oregon. The day we met we were instantly friends. We both shared the same sense of humor and he taught me much of hoop snakes and drop bears. From that day on we were as thick as thieves and although we lived far apart our brotherhood made us feel like he was right next door. Paul is gone from this realm and I will miss him for the moment. But just like 30 Year, I imagine that when I pass; I will be greeted by his big smile and he will say something like ‘What took you so long, Mate?’ I have something to look forward to when it is my time to depart. Find us a good place to eat when I get there.”
He was also well known for his courtesy, willingness to help, and his friendliness despite his ongoing insistence that he was a grump. Master Liam St. Liam said of Don Edmund “What always struck me about him was he’d see a friend, and that smile would light up and you’d be convinced he thought seeing you was the best thing that ever happened.”
In 2009 Don Edmund became an apprentice to Baroness Juliana von Altenfeld, OL, OP. According to Baroness Juliana, “It was his intention, if he became a laurel, to become the ‘Offal Laurel’. This combined both his ambition, and his love of bad jokes.” She went on to describe how, despite his many other accomplishments, he often introduced himself as her cooking apprentice, he was that pleased to be learning something new.
East Kingdom Seneshal Mistress Mercedes Vera de Calafia echoed the sentiments shared by many hearts when she said “I wish I had sufficient words to express my sadness at the loss of Don Edmund the Lame. I’ve been fortunate enough to talk and laugh and fight with him. The world is just a little dimmer without his smile to light it.”
At Don Edmund’s request there will be a memorial service for him at this year’s Pennsic War. In addition a service is planned at Gulf Wars to accommodate the many friends who cannot attend Pennsic. Dates and times for these memorials are still being determined.
Edited to correct inaccurate information. The original article incorrectly referred to An Tir as a Principality and had the date of Don Edmund’s passing incorrectly as January 4th.
Those wishing to express their condolences directly to Don Edmund’s family may contact Baroness Juliana who will put you in touch with them.
Filed under: Tidings Tagged: obituary
In a feature article for History Today, S. Frederick Starr of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, looks at the claimants to the discovery of the New World, including Abu Raihan al-Biruni, an Islamic scholar from Central Asia, who "may have discovered the New World centuries before Columbus – without leaving his study."
A year after St. Cyriac’s Church in the Wiltshire village of Lacock offered its prize medieval chalice for sale to the British Museum for £1.3 million ($2,130,570), the British Museum has acquired the piece it has been exhibiting on loan since 1963. The year was spent raising the money. Grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (£650,000) and The Art Fund (£150,000) got them 60% of the way. A large individual donation of £200,000 from investment banker and art patron John Studzinski, plus contributions from British Museum supporters, various charitable organizations and the museum’s acquisitions budget got them the rest of the way.
In a first that hopefully presages future such arrangements, Big Museum teamed up with the little guy on this project. The small but prestigious Wiltshire Museum in Devizes lent its aid by working on the grant applications and now it is co-owner of the Lacock Cup along with the British Museum. The original cup will mainly stay at the British Museum on permanent display in the Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery of Medieval Europe, but two identical replicas will be made by the museum’s metalworker Mike Neilson. An expert who has copied historical metal pieces from medieval chain mail to Bronze Age gold cloaks, Neilson will painstakingly recreate the chalice by hand using silver and gold. One of the replicas will go to the Wiltshire Museum where it will grace its Medieval Gallery along with other items from Lacock. The other will be given to St. Cyriac’s church so they can once again use an exquisite silver chalice for Communion on special occasions.
Made in the early 1400s by a master silversmith, the covered chalice was not created for liturgical use. It was a secular object, a shared cup at the feast table of a rich lord. Unmissable at almost 14 inches in height and weighing more than two pounds, it was certainly meant to be seen, an indication of wealth that would stand out even on a table groaning with food and drink. Nonetheless, its ornamentation is restrained. A twisted rope design decorates the top and base of the foot and rim of the cover and a row of delicate little leaves adorn the base of the lid, the top of the stem and the base of the foot, disguising the joins that connected the bowl and two sections of the foot. The lid is topped with a spherical finial which has been gilded, as have the lip of the cup, the lower part of the foot and leaf cresting. The smooth sides and elegantly simple decoration only underscore the skill of its maker. He hand-beat the chalice from three sheets of silver; any mistake would be brutally exposed by the simplicity of the design.
There are no makers’ marks to identify the creator or any evidence of who originally owned the Lacock Cup. All we know is that some point in the 17th century (thought to be between 1621 and 1636), the chalice was given to St. Cyriac’s probably by Sir Robert Baynard of Lackham Manor. The church used it to hold Communion wine during important services like Christmas and Easter for nearly 400 years. The timing of the donation and the centuries of careful church use are what kept this extremely rare piece intact in such exquisite condition. It was one of the most common types of chalices in the Late Gothic period, but almost none of them have survived because they were melted down when the fashion changed. Had it been donated to the church before the wholesale destruction of church silver during the Reformation, it wouldn’t have survived. Instead, it was kept intact in secular hands for a couple of centuries and then kept intact in ecclesiastical hands for the next four centuries.
Until 1981, the chalice made the return trip back to St. Cyriac’s for special occasions, but the trips stopped when its high value and perfect condition made regular travel too risky. The church, parts of which date to the 11th century and most of which dates to the early 15th century, is in desperate need of extensive repair work and, ideally, a source of funding for yearly maintenance. Since the chalice wasn’t going to be coming back any time soon due to the prohibitive cost of insurance and security, in 2009 the church explored the idea of selling it. Three years of debates ensued, ending with a legal challenge decided by an ecclesiastical consistory court in December of 2012 in favor of the sale.
Although current valuation puts the market value of the cup at around £2 million, the church offered it to the British Museum at their proposed price of £1.3 million because they wanted to ensure it stayed in its home of decades in the care of experts and accessible to the public. Now that the sale has gone through, the church plans to invest the principal and use the interest to fund necessary repairs now and in the future.
500 hundred years ago, a grieving wife wrote 13 love letters of Shakespearean pathos to her dead husband. The letters were buried along with the mummified remains in Andong City in South Korea, and tell "him she wants to see him and listen to him in her dreams."
Debate over corporal punishment in schools continues to this day, but new research by Dr Ben Parsons, of the University of Leicester, shows that the debate is an old one. In his project, Discipline and Violence in the Medieval Classroom, Parsons examines writings from the Middle Ages and concludes that corporal punishment was not necessarily the rule of the day.
Reburial of nobles was common practice in the 15th century, so the spirit of Richard III should feel right at home when he is soon reinterred in Leicester Cathedral. Experts have discovered a medieval ceremony of reburial, parts of which will be used in the upcoming service.