The chariot survived ancient eruptions and modern-day looters to become a part of the world heritage site.
- Archeologists recently discovered a first-of-its-kind chariot in Pompeii.
- The ceremonial chariot is decorated with bronze and tin medallions, while the sides sport bronzesheets and red-and-black paintings.
- Given looting activity in the area, it's lucky the 2,000-year-old treasure wasn't lost to the world heritage site.
In 79 CE, near the Bay of Naples, Mt. Vesuvius erupted. Geologically, this was business as usual for the volatile volcano, but for the nearby cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, it proved a cataclysmic event.
After the terrifying initial blast, the volcano spewed ash and rocks miles into the atmosphere. As this volcanic drift cooled, it began to snow onto the cities. It collapsed buildings under its weight and suffocated those unlucky enough to not flee. Then came the pyroclastic flows—massive waves of ash, gases, and lava fragments that washed over the cities at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour. All told, Vesuvius unleashed more than 100,000 times the energy of the two atomic bombs dropped during World War II on doomed towns nestled beneath it.
It seemed as though the cities weren't simply wiped off the map but practically from history itself, banished to a footnote in historical text. And so when explorers in the 1700s found the super-heated ash had preserved the city with taxidermic care, it was a miraculous discovery.
Today, Pompeii's fossilized slice-of-life gives historians an unprecedented view into a moment of history and culture. Bodies lie where they lived, traces of their clothes and other belongings still clinging to their forms. Frescos retain their imagery and vibrant colors. Fast food joints (called thermopolium) can be found with the jars still holding remnants of their menu items. Even the brain cells of a young man managed to survive the ages in vitrified conservation.
Each excavation teaches us something new about life in this Roman resort town, and Pompeii continues to surprise archeologists and historians well in the 21st century.
One dope Pompeian whip
Researchers carefully extract the chariot from the sedimentary rock encasing it.
Credit: Luigi Spina, Archaeological Park of Pompeii
In a recent discovery, researchers unearthed a first-of-its-kind chariot at Civita Giuliana, an excavation site north of Pompeii's ancient walls. In Roman times, the site served as a getaway for Rome's elite and wealthy citizens, a serene countryside brimming with villas and Mediterranean farms. So, it's understandable why such an exquisite chariot was found here.
"I was astounded," Eric Poehler, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who specializes in Pompeii traffic, told NPR. "Many of the vehicles I'd written about before ... are your standard station wagon or vehicle for taking the kids to soccer. This is a Lamborghini. This is an outright fancy, fancy car."
Located in a double-level portico, the chariot is a far cry from anything Ben-Hur would have been seen cruising around in. It sports four iron wheels and a high seat complete with arm- and backrest. The sides are adorned with engraved bronze and wooden panels painted with red-and-black figures. And the rear bumps with a register of bronze and tin medallion depicting Eros-inspired scenes of satyrs, nymphs, and cupids. In short, this chariot is slab.
"It is an extraordinary discovery for the advancement of our knowledge of the ancient world," Massimo Osanna, the director of the archaeological park, said in a statement. "At Pompeii vehicles used for transport have been found in the past, […] but nothing like the Civita Giuliana chariot."
But unlike a Lamborghini—which serves only to show the owner has more money than sense—this chariot served a social and cultural role. Likely a pilentum, it would have been rolled out in times of ceremony, potentially during festivals, processions, or weddings.
While similar chariots have been uncovered in northern Greece, this is the first such chariot to be discovered in Italy. Its presence in Pompeii will further help historians understand the people who called the city home, as well as their relation to the Mediterranean world.
As Poehler added, "This is precisely the kind of find that one wants to find at Pompeii, the really well-articulated, very well-preserved moments in time. And it happens to be in this case an object that is relatively rare despite its ubiquity in the past."
It belongs in a museum (not the black market)
Bronze and tin medallions depict satyrs, nymphs and cupids.
Credit: Luigi Spina, Archaeological Park of Pompeii
Beyond its gilded appeal, the chariot is also special because it survived so we could learn from it. The area where the vehicle was found has been favored in recent years by looters, and illicit tunnels had been dug precariously close to the chariot's resting place. For this reason, the archeological park has teamed up with the Public Prosecutor's Office of Torre Annunziata to protect Pompeii's history and excavate its treasures before they become lost or stolen.
"The collaboration between the Public Prosecutor's Office of Torre Annunziata and the Archaeological Park of Pompeii has proved itself to be a formidable instrument, not only for bringing finds of exceptional historical and artistic value to light, but also for halting the criminal actions of individuals who for years have been the protagonists in a systematic looting of the priceless archaeological heritage preserved in the vast area of the Civita Giuliana villa, which is still largely buried and to which the recent exceptional findings bear witness," Nunzio Fragliasso, chief prosecutor of Torre Annunziata, said in his joint statement with Osanna.
Nor is everything that glitters historic gold. Even Pompeii's everyday ephemera can have an outsized impact on history. Pompeian citizens, for example, viewed street walls as a type of "public advertisement space" and so painted them thick with graffiti. As historians must often rely on the written works of the literate elite, this graffiti gives the ordinary Pompeians their voice back. One such charcoal tag even corrected the record of Vesuvius's eruption by two months, from August to October, contradicting the traditionally accepted date set by Pliny the Younger.
"Today, archaeologists try to understand ancient societies by studying the entire material record -- not just the beautiful or luxurious objects, but also the broken bits of cooking pottery, the animal bones thrown into the trash, the microscopic grains of pollen in the soil, and much more," Caitlín Barrett, associate professor at Cornell University, told CNN.
This ephemera is also at risk. Looters looking for eye-catching treasure and artwork will often destroy everyday objects in their pursuit. And after centuries encased in protective sedimentary rock, the city has again been exposed to the rains, winds, and human blunders that erode. The goal now isn't just to excavate fantastic treasures, but to preserve the world heritage site and learn from it for as long as time (and maybe Vesuvius) will allow.
While other factors exist, sexual prowess appears to have helped determine the role of Protoceratops frills.
- New research seeks to explain why dinosaurs featured an elaborate diversity of ornamentation in their frills and crests.
- A team at the Natural History Museum in London investigated a sheep-size Gobi Desert dweller known as Protoceratops.
- While sex alone does not explain the design, "socio-sexual selection" seems to have played an essential role.
Fewer than 1 percent of all animals that ever lived have been fossilized. Yet fossils are essential for understanding the nature, notes Paige Williams in "The Dinosaur Artist." They provide an evolutionary glimpse into an ancient world. As she writes,
"Without fossils, an understanding of the earth's formation and history would not be possible… We would not know that the climate has warmed and cooled and is changing still… Without fossils, we would not know that birds evolved from dinosaurs; or that Earth was already billions of years old before flowering plants appeared; or that sea creatures transitioned to life on land and primates to creatures that crafted tools, grew crops, and started wars."
Dinosaurs occupy a particularly special place in our collective imagination. Williams states that natural history museums would likely not exist without fossils as well. Now a new study, conducted by researchers at the Natural History Museum in London and published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, might have answered an age-old question: Why did dinosaurs feature such an elaborate diversity of ornamentation in their frills and crests?
The answer probably won't surprise you, however: sex.
The New Face of Protoceratops?
While there is no way to definitively answer an evolutionary question about Triassic reptiles, postdoctoral researcher Dr. Andrew Knapp has been closely analyzing Protoceratops frills. He was investigating if sexual selection played a role in this sheep-size Gobi Desert dweller.
"In many fossil animals, we have unusual structures and traits which aren't really seen in living animals today. Protoceratops didn't have any horns but they still had a huge frill."
The researchers highlight the importance of "socio-sexual selection" throughout history: traits that serve a variety of purposes, including ornamentation and weaponry, as well as behaviors that helped to establish dominance hierarchies in societies. Humans are not the only species in which the loudest and/or flashiest alphas rise to the top; that information long predates our own genes.
Common examples of sexual selection include the famous tail feathers of peacocks or the elaborate mating rituals of bowerbirds. As Knapp says, however, such rituals are "quite often more complicated than just males being big and flashy and females being dull." He continues,
"While there are quite a few examples in living animals where usually females select males based on the size of their tail feathers or calls, it is quite often overlooked that males do the same thing with females as well."
The case of Protoceratops frills is complex. Knapp and his team made four predictions about the shape of their skulls as possibly playing socio-sexual signaling roles at the outset of their study. Three were supported by the research:
- low integration with the rest of the skull
- significantly higher rate of change in size and shape during ontogeny
- higher morphological variance than other skull regions
The fourth prediction, sexual dimorphism (two different forms existing in the same population), is notoriously difficult to determine given that large sample sizes are needed to understand the impact of each form.
The group looked at 3D scans of 30 Protoceratops skulls and found positive allometry—distinct patterns of growth that could have been sexually selected. Yet without including other factors, such as selecting for coloration of these reptilian ornaments, the team couldn't conclude with certainty that frills were due to mating alone.
Knapp concludes that it's only sex that determined the impact of these frills—but it certainly seems to have played a role.
"The boundaries between sexual and social selection are quite blurred, and social selection will quite often be an important factor too."
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
An archaeologist considers the history and biology of what defines a taste of home.
With COVID-19 fracturing our daily lives and holiday customs, the food on those lonely plates may become a source of solace.
During this pandemic, I have been receiving emails each morning from The New York Times with suggestions on what to cook. It might be the turning of the seasons, or the stress and grief of a prolonged global crisis that has stretched for months already, but lately, the recommended recipes are mostly along the lines of comfort food.
When I noticed this—it was a photo of an enameled pot brimming with a Dijon and cognac beef stew that did it—I wondered what exactly defined comfort food. I know the types of foods that conjure feelings of "home" and "safe" to me, but are there universally comforting dishes or ingredients across cultures and time? Where does the concept of comfort food come from? And how far back do the flavors of comfort stretch?
I took my curiosity first to Twitter and Facebook, asking friends what their comfort food of choice was. Answers varied, but there were trends. One was starchiness. Potatoes figured heavily on the comfort menu—mashed, roasted, fried, or in dumplings like pierogies. Pasta was a top contender as well, and mac and cheese made several appearances.
It's unlikely to surprise any starch lover that consumption of carbohydrates creates a release of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that regulates mood and creates a feeling of calm or stability. It's no wonder that bread baking has skyrocketed in popularity while people have been stuck indoors.
The second trend I saw in these responses was food as a trigger for memory—a point that comes up in academic studies of comfort foods too. One friend wrote that whenever she uses onions, carrots, and celery as a base, she remembers the smell of her mother's hands tucking her into bed after cooking dinner for the family. A friend chose her mother's chicken and dumplings as her top comfort food, and another chose her grandmother's German potato salad (both neatly straddling the starch and memory categories).
Another response read:
"I was really close to my grandpa. There was a huge mass of berry bushes and thistles and all kinds of weeds on his property. Every summer, he would wade into that mess to pick raspberries while I got the ones on the path so I didn't get scratched up. My grandma and I made dozens of jars of jam. And every morning of his life other than Christmas day, my grandfather had a peanut butter and jam sandwich for breakfast."
For this friend, PB&J is more than just an American childhood staple.
Most of the responses I got were from American friends, leaving me curious about people in the rest of the world. A search online for international comfort foods turned up many similar trends, but with plenty of variation. Someone homesick for Hong Kong might crave hotpot or the savory char of siu mei, rotisserie-style roasted meats. A person missing Greece might long for moussaka or pastitsio. A Philippine adobo or a dish of Nigerian jollof rice could transport those hungry for familiar flavors.
I think about food a lot—nearly constantly, in fact. I also often wonder about the lives of ancient people, as we archaeologists tend to do. So, what were the flavors of home and family gathering in the deep past?
Early humans, like animals, evolved to like the taste of things that were good for them and to find things that do harm—from poisonous plants to rotten meat—distasteful. Early food choices were driven by what was seasonally available and packed with calories.
Our craving for sugar, which today can cause obesity and other health problems, stems from an evolutionary advantage for people who ate energy-rich foods. Over time, people also found foods that were medicinally helpful, acted as preservatives or antimicrobial agents, or simply tasted good.
The use of spices for taste goes back surprisingly far. More than 6,000 years ago, at least some cooks in the western Baltic region included the crushed seeds of the garlic mustard plant in their dishes. This finding is generally seen as the first evidence of use of spices for culinary purposes in ancient European cuisine, though the authors say it's hard to know if this was a regular practice at the time. Garlic mustard has a peppery kick something like an extra-strong arugula. In the Baltic region today, grated horseradish and mustard sauces are common fixtures at the dinner table.
The geographic variation in what was available and popular has carved out niches of regional, traditional tastes, forming recognizable spice combinations for countries and communities around the world today.
The archaeological record preserves the remains of the earliest-known bread from about 14,000 years ago; we humans have loved it ever since. Ten thousand years ago, the Inca people of the Andes were learning to love the potato. By the 3rd century, noodles were already a staple in China. Six thousand years ago, someone far from their home on the Baltic Sea might have missed the peppery taste of garlic mustard just as today we long for the foods that comfort us.
Everyone—from every place and time—deserves a taste of home now and then.
Map shows oldest buildings for each U.S. state – but also hints at what's missing.
- How old is the oldest building in your state? This map will tell you.
- While the East Coast has some pretty ancient stuff, the oldest buildings elsewhere are many centuries older.
- The Pueblo dwellings in the Four Corners states go back to 750 CE.
Oldest drinking establishment
The White Horse Tavern in Newport, the oldest drinking establishment in the United States.
Credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel, CC BY-SA 4.0
What's the difference between a European and an American? Well, there are many, but here's a good one: for a European, 100 miles is far; for an American, 100 years is old.
It's a cliché with some truth to it. In Europe's political and cultural mosaic, 100 miles may put you in a different country, among people with whom you don't even share a language. Consequently, most Europeans are not keen to move too far away from home.
America, on the other hand, was built by and for people with the moving itch. In 2018, 1 in 10 Americans moved home. Of those, 15 percent moved to another state.
However, what Europe's human geography lacks in long distances, it makes up for in longevity. In Ireland, for example, you can drink at Sean's Bar, which has stood near the banks of the Shannon since the year 900 (for more 'oldest companies', see #1042).
By comparison, the oldest drinking establishment in the United States, the White Horse Tavern in Newport, Rhode Island has only just opened its doors: it's from the late 18th century, which means it's not even three and a half centuries old.
As demonstrated by this map of the oldest buildings for each U.S. state (plus Puerto Rico), most of the nation's ancient real estate is even younger: 15 buildings are from the 19th century, 18 are from the 18th century. A further dozen places on the map were built by conquerors and colonizers after the European arrival in the Americas, clocking in at half a millennium or less.
The really old stuff is of Native origin – the oldest even predates the Irish drinking establishment by a century and a half. What's remarkable, however, is that there is so little of it. Only six states have Native American (or Hawaiian) structures as their oldest buildings.
A few non-sinister reasons can be adduced. Many Native tribes led itinerant lives, without the need for permanent dwellings; and those that did settle down often built houses out of wattle, wood and other matters that easily decay.
However, the preponderance of 'European' buildings also masks a grimmer truth. Many Native structures were abandoned and fell into disrepair or oblivion when the Europeans arrived, or were destroyed outright.
Mounds not included
Due to the definition used, Native structures that don't qualify as buildings have not been included on the map.
Credit: Malcolm Tunnell, reproduced with kind permission
An argument may be had about the criteria for inclusion. It defines a 'building' as a free-standing, human-made structure used at least at some point for residential purposes, and still standing today.
That excludes a lot of older mounds of Native origin, such as the Etowah Indian Mounds (near Atlanta) and Monks' Mound (near St Louis). However, it is unclear why the list should include a number of churches, which never had an appreciable residential function.
Finally, this list, culled from the National Register of Historic Places and–gulp–Wikipedia is not without its problems. Some of the datings are disputed, and in several cases, states have competing candidates for 'oldest building'.
All that being said, the map does present a clear lesson. Leave the states with Native buildings out of the equation, and a familiar pattern becomes visible. The oldest structures are on the Eastern Seaboard, next up are what is now the Midwest and the Pacific coast. Then comes the 'Wild' west, the last frontier. This is the story of westward expansion and fulfillment of Manifest Destiny.
But the map also reveals traces of an older, less familiar narrative. The Ancestral Puebloans were already carving out their desert mansions around 750 CE, before there even was an England. We know little of the culture that built the Ocmulgee Earthlodge in Georgia around the year 1000. The Malae Heiau barely escaped bulldozing, despite being at least 800 years old. These Native structures, what few remain, contradict the well-worn story – or complete it, if you will.
Here's an overview of all the places on the map, from youngest to oldest.
The 'youngest' oldest building
Magazine at Fort Sisseton, the oldest building complex in South Dakota.
Credit: Ammodramus, Public Domain.
1864 - South Dakota: Fort Sisseton, Lake City
The 'youngest' oldest building of any state. Named after a local Indian tribe, this fort is located atop the Coteau des Prairies, an excellent defensive position.
1855 - Nevada: Old Mormon Fort, Las Vegas
The first permanent structure in what is now Las Vegas was an adobe fort built by Mormons, sent out from Utah to set up a new stronghold for the Latter-Day Saints. That didn't quite go as planned.
1853 - Idaho: Cataldo Mission, Cataldo
The Mission of the Sacred Heart in Cataldo was built by Catholic missionaries to the tribe of the Cœur d'Alene tribe. A picture of this mission hangs in the Brumidi Corridors of the US Capitol.
1849 - Wyoming: Fort Laramie, Goshen
Founded as a private fur trading station, later repurposed as a military fort.
1844 - Montana: Old Fort Benton Blockhouse, Fort Benton
Once the terminus of the Mullan Road, which linked the Missouri and Columbia rivers, and the last fur trading post on the Upper Missouri River.
1843 - North Dakota: Kittson Trading Post, Walhalla
This is the only surviving of three trading posts built by, Norman W. Kittson, trader for the American Fur Company. It was later used as stables for a local hotel.
1843 - Washington: Fort Nisqually granary, Tacoma
Founded in 1833 and currently located in Point Defiance Park, Fort Nisqually is the oldest European settlement on Puget Sound. The granary is its oldest surviving building.
1840 - Oklahoma: Fort Gibson Barracks, Fort Gibson
In competition for the title of oldest building in the state with the Cherokee National Supreme Court Building in Tahlequah.
1835 - Nebraska: log cabin, Bellevue
According to legend, this log cabin was built as an outpost of John Jacob Astor's legendary American Fur Company. Due to a cholera outbreak, it was moved away from the Missouri River, and in 1850 it was relocated to its present position, near the Old Presbyterian Church.
1833 - Iowa: Louis Arriandeaux Log House, Dubuque
The log cabin originally stood at 2nd and Locust Streets in Dubuque but has since been moved twice. The oldest building in Iowa, once home to pioneer settler William Newman, can now be found on the grounds of the Mathias Ham House.
Grouseland, fit for a president
Grouseland was built by William Henry Harrison before he became the 9th president of the United States.
Credit: Nyttend, Public Domain.
1824 - Arkansas: Woodruff Print Shop, Little Rock
In the late 1810s, New Yorker Andrew Woodruff moved to Arkansas, where he would publish the Arkansas Gazette. From 1824, he lived and worked in the print shop that is now part of the Historic Arkansas Museum.
1820 - Minnesota: Fort Snelling Round Tower, St Paul
When Fort Snelling was completed in 1825, this tower–built at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers–was already five years old. The Fort's aim was to keep British influence out of what was then the Northwestern United States and it was in service until 1858.
1810 - Alaska: Baranov Museum, Kodiak
Originally built as a warehouse for the Russian-American Trading Company in Kodiak, the oldest Russian settlement in Alaska. The building housed workers in the 19th century, was the site of a murder in 1886, and is supposedly haunted.
1808 - Alabama: Joel Eddins House, Huntsville
Originally built in Ardmore, this log cabin was moved to its current location in 2007.
1804 - Indiana: Grouseland, Vincennes
William Henry Harrison was not only the 9th president of the United States, but also the builder of what has turned out to be the oldest building in Indiana. He built Grouseland, a brick mansion, in 1804 when he was governor of the Indiana Territory. He lived there until 1812, when he took command of American forces in the Northwest Territory in the war with the British.
1799 - Oregon: Molalla Log House, Molalla
Built by fur traders of French-Canadian and/or Native American origin.
1792 - Missouri: Louis Bolduc House, Sainte Genevieve
Ste Genevieve is Missouri's oldest European settlement, founded by the French and named after the patron saint of Paris. The oldest house in town was built by Louis Bolduc, trader, miner, planter, and a descendant of Louis XIV's apothecary.
1790 - Kentucky: Historic Locust Grove, Louisville
In the running for oldest building in Kentucky, in close competition with the Old Providence Church in Winchester, John Andrew Miller House near Georgetown, and others. Lewis and Clark were officially welcomed back here in November 1809, after their western expedition.
1788 - Ohio: General Rufus Putnam House, Rutland
Named after Rufus Putnam, a Revolutionary War general who helped found Marietta, Ohio. Now a B&B.
The convent saved by prayer
The Old Ursuline Convent in New Orleans.
Credit: Carol M. Highsmith / Library of Congress, Public Domain.
1785 - West Virginia: Rehoboth Church, Monroe County
A log cabin outside the town of Union, built as a Methodist church, is now a National Methodist Shrine.
1780 - Michigan: Officers' Stone Quarters, Mackinac Island
The Officers' Stone Quarters are the oldest part of Fort Mackinac, an originally British fort on Mackinac Island that was turned over to the Americans in 1796.
1778 - Tennessee: Christopher Taylor House, Jonesborough
Built by Christopher Taylor, a veteran of the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War. Andrew Jackson lived in it in 1788-1789 while practicing law in Jonesborough. Possibly the oldest house in the state; another candidate is the Carter Mansion in Elizabethton.
1776 - Wisconsin: Tank Cottage, Green Bay
Built by French-Canadian fur trader Joseph Roi on the Fox River, purchased in 1850 by Nils Otto Tank, a Norwegian missionary.
1776 - California: Mission San Juan Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano
The mission survived dereliction, earthquakes, revolution, and expropriation. In 1910, it was the backdrop for "The Two Brothers" by D.W. Griffith, the first movie shot in Orange County. The mission of San Juan Capistrano is famous for the swallows that return here each spring. Mission San Diego de Alcalá (est. 1769) was the first in California and is thus older; but none of the original buildings survive.
1769 - Vermont: William Henry House, Bennington
Built for Elnathan Hubbell and reworked around 1797 for William Henry, a locally prominent politician whose son went on to become a U.S. Congressman. Now operating as a B&B.
1765 - Washington DC: Old Stone House
When it was built, the Old Stone House stood in the British colony of Maryland. The building was preserved out of reverence for the city's founders – by accident. It was thought this was where George Washington met with Pierre L'Enfant, who designed the DC street grid. But it turns out this was not Suter's Tavern. At the time, this was a clock shop, owned by the tavern holder's son, John Suter Jr.
1757 - Mississippi: LaPointe-Krebs House, Pascagoula
Also known as the Old Spanish Fort, this house is the oldest structure in the entire Mississippi Valley.
1748 - Louisiana: Old Ursuline Convent, New Orleans
The convent was spared destruction by a city-wide fire, which stopped just a street short of the building, perhaps thanks to the nuns' prayers to Our Lady of Prompt Succor. Prayers are still addressed to her when hurricanes and other disasters threaten the city.
1740 - Illinois: Old Cahokia Courthouse, Cahokia
Built in the 1730s by the French as a house, it has been used as a courthouse since 1793 and is most famous as the headquarters for Lewis and Clark around 1803 when planning their expedition.
America’s oldest masonry fortress
The Castillo de San Marcos, as seen from above.
Credit: Daniel Cring, CC BY-SA 4.0.
1724 - Texas: Alamo Mission Long Barracks, San Antonio
The oldest extant part of the Alamo, which was founded as a Spanish mission but is best remembered for the Battle of the Alamo (1836), which played an important role in Texan independence from Mexico.
1718 - North Carolina: Lane House, Edenton
Steve and Linda Lane didn't know how old their house was until they had it renovated. Behind the cheap wall paneling, the workers found 18th-century timber structures.
1694 - South Carolina: Middleburg Plantation, Berkeley County
This two-story frame house was built by Benjamin Simons, a French Huguenot planter, and is still owned by his descendants.
1675 - Maryland: Old Trinity Church, Church Creek
An Anglican church since 1692, the building has been Protestant Episcopal since the Revolution. The cemetery holds the remains of several revolutionary war heroes.
1673 - Rhode Island: White Horse Tavern, Newport
Not just the oldest building in the state, also the oldest bar in the entire country. In the spirit of its age, the tavern is still lit by oil lamps and candles.
1672 - Florida: Castillo de San Marcos, St Augustine
The Spanish-built Caste of St Mark is the only surviving 17th-century military structure in the United States. It is also the country's oldest masonry fortress. It is located in St Augustine, the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the continental United States.
1665 - Delaware: Ryves Holt House, Lewes
Built by Dutch settlers but named after the first Chief Justice of Delaware, who bought it in 1723.
1660 - Maine: William Whipple House, Kittery
Birthplace of General William Whipple, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
1650 - Kansas: El Quartelejo ruins, Lake Scott S.P.
The northernmost Native American pueblo and the only one in Kansas, established by a group that left New Mexico. In 1706, the Spanish conquered the area and forced the inhabitants back. The structure was rediscovered in 1898 and is now part of a State Park.
1650 - Pennsylvania: Lower Swedish Cabin, Drexel Hill
Now on the outskirts of Philadelphia, this cabin was built by Swedish immigrants as a trading post. It has since served various purposes, including film set and girl scout meeting house.
Thousand-year-old Puebloan structures built adjacent the living rock, creating buildings that stood the test of time.
Credit: au_ears, CC BY-SA 2.0.
1647 - Virginia: Jamestown Church, Jamestown
Only the tower dates from the 16th century, the rest of this building in Historic Jamestown park is actually the sixth version of the original. In one of those, Pocahontas and John Rolfe got married.
1641 - Massachusetts: Fairbanks House, Dedham
Fairbanks House is the oldest still standing wooden structure in North America. It was built for Jonathan Fairbanks, a tradesman, and his family. His descendants continued to live in the house well into the 20th century.
1640 - Connecticut: Henry Whitfield House, Guilford
Built for the Reverend Henry Whitfield, a Puritan leader and the founder of Guilford. This is the oldest stone house in all of New England.
1639 - New York: Gardiners Island shed, Gardiners Island
A wooden shed purportedly built when Lion Gardiner bought the island from Montaukett chief Wyandanch. Located off the tip of Long Island, Gardiners Island is still owned by Gardiner's descendants. It is one of the largest private islands in the U.S. In June 1699, Captain Kidd buried treasure here (it has since been retrieved – you're too late).
1600 - New Hampshire: Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth
Not a single building but an entire historic district, featuring around 40 restored buildings. Saved from redevelopment in the 1950s, the area opened as a museum in 1965.
1521 - Puerto Rico: Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, San Juan
Extensively added to and renovated since its inauguration almost five centuries ago, this is the oldest church in the United States and its territories.
1200 - Hawaii: Malae Heiau, Wailua River S.P.
The largest heiau (Hawaiian temple) on Kauai, one of the largest surviving temple platforms in all of Hawaii, as well as the oldest building still in existence in the state.
1015 - Georgia: Ocmulgee Earth Lodge, Macon
A reconstructed ceremonial lodge originally built a millennium ago by the South Appalachian Mississippian culture on a site with evidence of 17,000 years of continuous human habitation. It is now part of the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park.
Ca. 750 - Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico Utah: ancestral Puebloan dwellings
Hundreds of stone and adobe dwellings, often constructed in canyon walls, scattered throughout the Four Corners states. Most were abandoned around 1300 due to climate change.
Map by Malcolm Tunnell, reproduced with kind permission. See the original context here.
Strange Maps #1062
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
The Chumash people poked bits of psychoactive plants into cave ceilings next to their paintings.
- Mysterious pinwheel paintings in a California cave are probably representations of the hallucinogen Datura wrightii.
- The paintings were made by the Chumash people 400 years ago.
- This is the first definitive connection between cave painting and hallucinogens.
Mysterious paintings on cave walls and ceilings from long ago no doubt offer insights into the lives of the people who made them. However, exactly what they tell us is less clear. While hunting scenes and images of communities seem straightforward, there are also more abstract images, such as the 5-armed pinwheels painted on the ceiling of Pinwheel Cave in the Wind Wolves Preserve of California's San Emigdio Mountains. Now, chewed clumps of jimsonweed have been found wedged into small crevasses in the ceilings. Datura wrightii, also called "Devil's Trumpet," is a hallucinogenic.
The findings are presented in a study published in PNAS.
A suspicion confirmed
Robinson in Pinwheel Cave
Credit: Rick Bury/PNAS
About 50 clumps, or "quids," of chewed Datura plant fibers were found tucked into the stone alongside the swirls. It's believed they were painted sometime between 1530 and 1890 by members of the Chumash tribe, linked to today's Tejon people. This is the first time traces of hallucinogens have been found in proximity to cave art. It strongly suggests a connection.
The discovery was made by archaeologist David Robinson of the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in the U.K. Robinson has been excavating the cave since 2007.
As for what those red-ochre pinwheels represent, Robinson asserts that they depict Datura itself and the way that it unwinds at dusk as seen at the top of this article.
Credit: Dlarsen/Wikimedia Commons
Chemical analysis revealed that 15 quid samples contained traces of two hallucinogenic alkaloids found in Datura, scopolamine and atropine. Microscopy revealed that a majority of the quids contained remnants of Datura, and further 3D scrutiny found that the quids exhibited properties consistent with having been chewed.
Says co-author Matthew Baker of the University of Strathclyde, "The combination of chemistry and archaeology in this project has truly shown the power of a multidisciplinary approach to uncover new knowledge."
The Chumash people are known to have used Datura in adolescent rites of passage and for shamanic vision quests. The plant was considered part of the tribe's spiritual family, personified as an old woman named "Momoy." The plant is classified today as an entheogen, which are plants used for spiritual purposes.
Datura was often ingested after being processed into liquid form, it was also chewed, as seen in the cave's quids. The Chumash knew how much Datura to ingest — it can be lethal when the dosage is too high.
Bringing the past to the present
Credit: Devlin Gandy/University of Central Lancashire
"The link between hallucinogens and rock art has long been suspected," says Robinson, "and this research shows that it was not only a source of creative inspiration for these prehistoric groups of people, but a core tenet of important rituals and community gathering."
He adds, "These findings give us a far more in-depth understanding of the lives of indigenous American communities and their relationships, from late prehistoric times right up until the late 1800s. Importantly, because of this research, the Tejon Indian tribe now visits the site annually to reconnect to this important ancestral place."
Co-author Fraser Sturt of the University of Southampton, lauds the partnerships that made the findings possible:
"The results of this project spring from a high interdisciplinary, open and collaborative approach to research. In this way, new and improved recording and analytical techniques have helped to reconnect material remains, art, narrative and people across space and time. Thus, while the focus is on the hallucinogenic properties of Datura and its role in rock art and community generation, this work also shows that it is one facet of a complex suite of relationships between people, place and the environment."