Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Scout Report -- Volume 17, Number 47

What did happen at the first Thanksgiving?

Revisiting the feast

Plymouth Rock: More Than A Homely Boulder

Thanksgiving History: Plimoth Plantation

Dining Together

The Food Timeline: Thanksgiving Food History

Nature: My Life as A Turkey

What exactly did happen on the first Thanksgiving? What did the Pilgrims and Wampanoag say to each other? How did they interact? Perhaps most importantly, what did they eat? As Americans gather to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, these are but a few of the questions that curious folks might be asking at the dinner table. Well, the folks at Plimoth Plantation have been looking into such matters as of late, and they have come to a few conclusions regarding the bounty served at this historic first Thanksgiving in 1621. To begin, there were no forks, no cranberry sauce, no apple pie, and no pumpkin. The beverage of choice? Water. Many of the dishes probably contained deer heart, liver, and lung. Commenting in a recent Boston Globe article about the Thanksgiving, Plimoth Plantation's Kathleen Wall noted that the feast lasted three entire days. Food historian Alexandra Pocknett remarked that the natives would have most likely contributed stews, soups, and succotash, which consists of corn, beans, and squash. It is also likely that the activities around this feast included an intense version of football (think 45 on 45, rather than 11 on 11) and some stoolball, which is an archaic English sport akin to cricket. Even with information provided by several eyewitness accounts, there remain many more questions than answers about this rather historic event. [KMG]

The first link will take visitors to a recent news article from the Boston Globe about the research conducted by Plimoth Plantation staffers into the food of the first Thanksgiving. The second link leads to a nice meditation on Thanksgiving and Plymouth Rock from John Yemma, the editor of the Christian Science Monitor. The third link will whisk users away to a very thorough site on the history of Thanksgiving, provided courtesy of Plimoth Plantation. The fourth link leads to a fun instructional film from 1951 designed to teach young people about Thanksgiving dining etiquette. The fifth link leads to a thorough timeline of Thanksgiving culinary history, courtesy of the Food Timeline website. Finally, the last link leads to a recent Nature episode, My Life as A Turkey, which chronicles a man’s remarkable experience raising a group of wild turkey hatchlings to adulthood.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Archaeology/Anthropology Mysteries

Something about mysteries I enjoy is often that they introduce me to what it is like to follow different careers and so expand my understanding of the world. Of course, law and law enforcement are the most logical and thus the most common careers for the protagonist in a mystery, but there's plenty of scope for people of other professions and there are mystery writers everywhere to fill the niche.  Forensic anthropologists, who study bones, are another natural match for mysteries.  Archaeologists are less of a natural match, but there are several good mystery series out there with archaeologist protagonists and I love them in part because I considered archaeology as a possible career as a child.  I also took exactly one class in cultural anthropology and one class in physical anthropology while an undergraduate at Duke.  Loved both of them, but didn't have time enough for other anthro classes.

I've read various series that fit this category over the years, and this year have added a couple more excellent ones that are among my favorite series ever.  So I've been deliberately seeking out more.  This is made easier by the wonderfully well-designed web site Stop You're Killing Me (SYKM).  The site is about mystery, thriller, and suspense books.  The main part of the site is an alphabetical index of authors and an alphabetical index of characters.  But there are other nifty feature such as lists of award winners, a location index to where mysteries are set, and, ta-da, a job index, which has a category for Archaeologists and Anthropologists.

Perhaps the most popular forensic anthropologist series is the one by Kathy Reichs whose main character is Temperance Brennan.  The TV show Bones is loosely based on it.  I only read a couple of these and wasn't particularly inspired to read more, but I might pick them back up later.

However ther are other series I in this category that I like far more and think deserve to be better known.  I'd like to share them with you.

Perhaps my favorite is the Diane Fallon series by Beverly Connor.  I had read a few of Connor's Lindsay Chamberlain series back in the 90s, but lost track of the series.  When I bought my Nook Color ebook reader and was looking for new books to read, I saw the Fallon series listed on SYKM and tried the first one, and was hooked.  Read the whole series through obsessively.  Fallon is a forensic anthropologist and director of a natural history museum in a small fictional town in Georgia.  Through the course of the series she winds up setting up a crime lab and is director of it as well as the museum.  The back story of the series is that she spent a few years in a Latin American country investigating mass graves for a human rights group.  While there she adopted a little girl.  While she is out of her compound one day it is attacked, several of her colleagues are massacred, and her daughter is missing.  She searches but cannot find her daughter and after an emotional breakdown for some months takes the job as museum director.  Diane is smart, extraordinarily competent, and she and her colleagues and her FBI agent significant other are richly drawn, interesting characters.  One strange thing is that all 9 books in the series are available as ebooks except the fifth one. Bizarre.

Another series I've been reading as they come out and really love is the series about Bill Brockton by Jefferson Bass.  Jefferson Bass is the pseudonym of the writing team Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson.  Jefferson is a professional writer and Bass is a forensic anthropologist who founded and runs the Body Farm attached to the University of Tennessee Knoxville.  The Body Farm is a several acre facility designed to scientifically study the process of human decomposition in various environments, and has made major contributions to the forensic sciences.  Brockton is a fictionalized version of Bass.  I love the books primarily because I love the character of Brockton.  Since he narrates the books we are inside his character, that of a mature, thoughtful, intelligent, and very decent character.  We see his loves, his fears, his interactions with other well-drawn characters, his mistakes, and how he deals with them, and how much he cares.

One of the series I found this year through SKYM is the series about archaeologist Faye Longchamp by Mary Anna Evans.  Evans' degrees are in physics and engineering, interestingly enough.  We first see Faye as a student trying desperately to earn enough money to stay in school and pay to keep her ancestral home on a small island off coastal Florida.  She is half black and half white, descended from both the owners and the slaves of her home Joyeuse, and as a child was rejected by schoolmates of both races.  The only other person who lives on her island is Joe Wolf Mantooth, part Native American, who lives very much on the land.  He is almost a Noble Savage stereotype, but Evans is a good enough writer to make him a fully believable, interesting character.  Turns out over the course of the series he is very intelligent but with severe learning disabilities.  He is an expert on making flint tools and so useful to an archaeologist.  Once again it is the characters that make well-plotted books into something extraordinary.

SKYM also reminded me of another series I had really liked but had lost track of, the Gideon Oliver series by Aaron Elkins.  I have now happily caught up with this excellent series, which, according to Elkins' web site, pioneered the modern forensic mystery.  Oliver is a professor of forensic anthropology who more often than not stumbles into mysteries.  At other times he gets called into them because of his expertise. 

SKYM also reminded me of another series I really liked, the Penny Spring and Toby Glendower series by Margot Arnold.  Sadly the last of this series was published in 1995 and I don't remember a lot about them except I very much enjoyed them

The other really well-known series about archaeology is the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters.  Peters is one of the pseudonyms of Barbara Mertz, who has a Ph.D. in Egyptology.  She writes nonfiction books on Egyptology as Mertz, gothics as Barbara Michaels, and 3 series plus stand alones as Elizabeth Peters.  The Peters books are notable for having strong women characters and for their humor.  Amelia is, in 1884, an English spinster whose father has left her enough money to indulge in a zest for travel.  In Rome she meets Evelyn, an English woman who is down on her luck and considers herself disgraced.  They continue traveling together and in Egypt meet archaeologist Radcliffe Emerson and his philologist brother Walter.  The series follows the adventures of the Emerson family into the 1920s.  Some dislike the series for the over-the-top qualities of the characters.  I have just reread the whole series and enjoyed it as much as I did the first time, which is quite a lot.  In the hands of a less talented writer the series would have turned out to be a Mary Sue, but Peters is too skillful.  She creates characters who are marvelouly larger than life - and you get the impression the author knows it, is magnificently unrepentent, and invites you along for the ride.  Apparently the intellectual ancestor is the equally improbable adventures of H. Rider Haggard.

Finally I'll mention the Emma Fielding series by Dana Cameron.  I've only read the first book in the series so far, about a young archaeologist looking for any remains of a colony that predated Jamestown.  It was very good and I look forward to reading the other books in the series.


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Thursday, November 17, 2011