|From: isopatch||2/13/2020 11:37:45 PM|
13 February, 2020 - 22:49
Seahenge: A Subaquatic Monument of the European Bronze Age
Today, the United Kingdom is crisscrossed with many fascinating monuments from ancient times. From the ages when these islands were inhabited by different peoples and cultures of tribes from ancient Europe, who shared many intriguing beliefs and lived in a great symbiosis with the nature around them. From passage tombs and burial mounds, to megaliths, the iconic Stonehenge and now ‘Seahenge’, these remnants from a time long gone are still an important connection with the lives of all our ancestors. They are the fiber that bonds the past and the present - a real passageway that leads us back through time.
But one such discovery defied all odds and survived the tireless beating of passing time, for several thousand years. This discovery is so exceptional because of the fact that it is not made of stone - but of wood! Today we are bringing you the story of one of UK’s most mysterious ancient monuments - the so-called Seahenge. Join us as we pierce the veil of time to discover the true purpose of this fascinating wood ring.
The Origins of Seahenge and its Discovery The small, picturesque village of Holme-next-the-Sea is situated in the English county of Norfolk, nestled right on the coast. On a first glance it is just like all Norfolk hamlets - cozy and snug, captivating with its rural and simple charm. It is a seaside village that perfectly captures the nature and wildlife, which is found in England’s marshes and in the North Sea . But a remarkable discovery in 1998 woke this hamlet up from its lull and sent waves through the English and global archaeological community.
Old Hunstanton beach, where Seahenge was found, at low tide in Norfolk, UK. ( Andrew / Adobe stock)
In the early spring of that year, an amateur archaeologist named John Lorimer was casually catching shrimps on the beach near Holme, with his brother-in-law. These North Sea Norfolk beaches have a distinct look, and low tide can give a chance to spot some interesting things. And that is exactly what happened to Mr. Lorimer, because it wasn’t a shrimp he found - but a Bronze Age axe head. It was the second such axe head found on that beach within a time frame of just a few months, and Lorimer recognized the fact that it was not by mere chance that it happened. So he kept returning to the Holme beach in the hope of further discoveries, but what he eventually found was thoroughly unexpected.
Emerging from the wave-washed sand was an upturned tree stump. The first guess was a logical one - an Anglo-Saxon fish trap, which were not unusual around the area. But as the tide receded, more and more, details began emerging from the sand. What was seen was astonishing and quite unique -a circle of timber posts with a huge upturned stump in the very center. The importance was quickly recognized, and professionals were soon at the scene.
Unique Bronze Age Monument What was the true purpose of this timber circle? Who erected it? Well, research confirmed that the so-called Seahenge was definitely old. In fact, really, really old. It dated to the Bronze Age, and it was erected roughly around 2049 BC. With accurate research and dating of the wood samples, scientists could pinpoint 2049 BC as the date when the trees were cut down.
Seahenge during sunset, after some of the timber had been removed by archaeologists for testing and preservation. ( Historic England )
The wooden circle consists of fifty-five split oak trunks, which were carefully arranged into a circle and measured around 7 by 6 meters (23 by 20 feet). The trunks were split in half vertically and arranged so that the round side with the bark was facing outwards and flat side inwards - with only a single trunk being placed the opposite way. The reason for this is unknown, and it was most likely done with a purpose.
It was deduced that only one of these trunks allowed an entrance into the circle, as it had a narrow passage in the form of a Y shaped fork. In front of this opening stood another trunk, which inhibited people from peering into the circular enclosure. Since the timbers survived a great length of time, they had eroded greatly, and it is not known how tall they originally were. Inside the circle was the iconic stump - turned upside down, with its branching roots pointing upwards.
Ancient Beliefs – What Was the Purpose of Seahenge? But what about the purpose of this wooden enclosure? Since its discovery, Seahenge baffled scientists and gave rise to many theories, all of them quite possible. One thing is certain - its ritual purpose. Several scholars agree that Seahenge was directly related to the burial practices in Bronze Age Britain.
It is purported that the enclosure was used for excarnation. This was an ancient funerary practice where flesh was removed from the bodies - similar to the modern Tibetan Sky Burial tradition. Seemingly the deceased were placed on top of the upturned stump, where they were left exposed to the weather and the birds of prey. Ancient natives of Britain might have believed in the spirit continuing to live beyond the disappearance of flesh, and a return to the nature. All around them was possible with the mortal remains consumed by the birds of prey and scattered.
Scholars believe that excarnation was most often practiced for women and children, as there is a great disparage of archaeologically excavated Bronze Age skeletons, where male remains are much more common than those of females and children.
Another possible role of Seahenge was ceremonial. There is great symbolism in the layout of this wooden circle. Some think that it symbolized a boundary between life and death, between the mortal world and the one beyond. As it is placed close to the sea, it is believed that Bronze Age people thought the sea was the world’s edge, with the realm of the dead lying beyond their shores and far in the distant horizons.
Still, we cannot know the answer for sure, as time has certainly washed away the original purpose of Seahenge. However, it is easy to deduce that it had immense importance for the people of this region, and its symbolism is proof of this.
Seahenge gave scholars and scientists some crucial insights into the life of Bronze Age people that inhabited Britain. Thanks to the degree of preservation of the trunks, a lot has been learned through testing. The trunks still display visible marks of hewing and narrowing down to a point. Research showed that this was done with between 30 and 40 bronze axes, all of which came from the region of Cornwall. It is clear that the ancient inhabitants of modern Norfolk most certainly engaged in trade with their neighboring tribes, and they had to travel quite a distance to acquire their bronze tools.
4000-Year-Old bronze axe head found in Sweden to show what the axes used for the construction of Seahenge could have looked like. (The Swedish History Museum, Stockholm / CC BY 2.0 )
A less credible and less logical theory is that the workforce was in fact from Cornwall. Other research helped scientists to pinpoint the exact period of the construction, when the trees were felled, to the late spring or early summer of 2049 BC, all on the same day. This tells us that it was an important, planned event that had to involve a lot of people, perhaps as much as 50. This is another important insight into society of the past. It suggests that strong communities did exist around this time and large-scale constructions were very familiar to them.
When it comes to the surroundings of Seahenge, details were much scarcer. In 2049 BC, the area looked slightly different, and the henge was situated on a salt marsh, also known as a tidal marsh. As time progressed, it became a freshwater wetland, and this ecosystem allowed the growth of trees. As these decayed over the centuries, they became a layer of peat that covered the flats. As the time rolled onward, so did the sea, and the peat layers were covered by sand and saltwater, which preserved the remains. We can thus deduce that originally it was built deeper inland, but that the area became the current beach over the millennia.
Although little excavations could be made in the vicinity of Seahenge, they yielded some interesting finds. Archaeologists could not find any material from the earliest periods of the henge’s use, but finds of Mid to Late Bronze Age pottery sherds, tell us that the site saw a period of prominent use, several centuries after it was constructed.
Destruction or Preservation? - A Conflict Emerges When Seahenge was officially discovered in 1998, although it was a majestic find, it was still a little controversial, which led to a conflict between several involved parties shortly after the initial find. Seahenge itself was only named after 1998 and had no name before that, although it was already somewhat known to the locals, who knew of its existence for some time. And when scientists and archaeologists began their proper excavations, several voices rose in opposition.
A view of Seahenge several months after discovery by which time archaeologists had already removed some of the timber stakes and sawn a chunk out of the central "altar," which comprised the inverted trunk of an oak tree. (Picture Esk / CC BY-NC 2.0 )
First there were the locals. They desired to retain the remnants of the wooden circle and display it locally - in hopes of attracting tourists to their region and having a piece of heritage for their village. Then there were the modern ‘ Druids’ and ‘Neopagans’. They gave adamant opposition to the disturbance of the remains and wanted them to remain in situ and untouched, to avoid sacrilege.
Protesters considered the dismantling of Seahenge to be a desecration of an ancient sacred site and mounted a guard to prevent further damage to the site by the archaeologists. (Picture Esk / CC BY-NC 2.0 )
In time, they launched a proper publicity campaign against the scientists, who wanted to remove the remnants and take them for preservation and display in a museum. Eventually, the research team managed to acquire a high court injunction, which prevented several of the key protesters to approach the site.
The media soon picked up on the discovery and the conflict, and the news soon spread. The wooden circle was soon dubbed the “ Stonehenge of the Sea”, “Stonehenge Beneath the Sea”, and “Stonehenge’s Underwater Sister.” As a result, it eventually received its name of Seahenge, even though it is most likely not a henge.
Wildlife protection also entered the fray with their own complaints, claiming that the increasing visitors to the site - some 5000 of them in the first year after discovery - disturbed the wildlife of the area, in particular the wader birds.
The area was a part of Holme Dunes National Nature Reserve. The publicity reached its all-time high in 1999, when the famous Channel 4 historical show called Time Team ran a special documentary episode on Seahenge and the legal battle over its excavation.
After Seahenge was found exposed in the peat bed, visitors came from far and wide to see this ancient site for themselves. (Picture Esk / CC BY-NC 2.0 )
In the end, the English Heritage team of excavators had the last word and completely removed Seahenge from its original position - albeit under the watchful gaze of the many gathered protesters, the media, and the police force. At the climax point of the excavation, when the majestic tree stump was being pulled out, a distressed young female protester dashed through the protective circle and the police force, in an attempt to stop the excavation. In the end, she was subdued and removed from the site.
What Happened to Seahenge? The remains of Seahenge were transported to a field center of the Fenland Archaeology Trust at Flag Fen, in Cambridgeshire. There, they were preserved by immersion in fresh water, and underwent thorough cleaning, scanning, processing, and further conservation.
A very interesting and unique method of preserving them was employed and in particular, the remains were continually soaked over the years, in wax-emulsified water. This resulted in the moisture, that was gathered in the wood over the centuries, to be replaced with wax. In the end, the entire remnants of Seahenge were successfully preserved for posterity and stored. A replica was put on display in King’s Lynn Museum in King’s Lynn, in 2008.
A Link to Connect the Ages Seahenge is not the only discovery of its type in England. Just a hundred meters to the east of Seahenge, another double wood circle was discovered, albeit smaller and less preserved. But it is a clear indication that these wood enclosures were a very important ritual tradition for Bronze Age Britain natives, especially in East Anglia.>
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|To: FUBHO who wrote (6266)||2/22/2020 9:02:02 AM|
|Over 150,000 Botanical Illustrations Enter the Public Domain|
From Flore des serres et des jardins de l’Europe A Gand (1845-1880) (all images courtesy the Biodiversity Heritage Library)“We need the tonic of wildness,” writes Henry David Thoreau in his 1854 classic Walden; or, Life in the Wood. “We can never get enough of nature.”
Had he lived in our time, Thoreau would’ve been thrilled to know that the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), the world’s largest open-access digital archive dedicated to the natural world, is now offering more than 150,000 high-resolution illustrations for copyright-free download.
These public domain images belong to an archive of more than 55 million pages of literature about earth’s species of flora and fauna. They include animal sketches, historical diagrams, botanical studies, and scientific research collected from hundreds of thousands of journals and libraries across the world. Some of the illustrations date back to the 15th century.
From British dragonflies (Odonata) (1900)According to BHL, sharing these documents with the public is instrumental in combating the climate crisis. “To document Earth’s species and understand the complexities of swiftly-changing ecosystems in the midst of a major extinction crisis and widespread climate change, researchers need something that no single library can provide — access to the world’s collective knowledge about biodiversity,” the library says on its website.
It continues, “While natural history books and archives contain information that is critical to studying biodiversity, much of this material is available in only a handful of libraries globally. Scientists have long considered this lack of access to biodiversity literature as a major impediment to the efficiency of scientific research.”
The collections are a feast to the eye. Among them, you’ll find a digitized copy of Joseph Wolf’s 19th-century book Zoological Sketches, containing about 100 lithographs depicting wild animals in London’s Regent’s Park. You’ll also find watercolors depicting flowers indigenous to the Hawaiian islands, and an 1833 DIY Taxidermist’s Manual.
To enhance research, the library also offers search features to find species by taxonomy and an option to follow online conversations about books and articles in the archive. As it continues to add collections to the public domain, the library is currently working on a project to promote awareness of the field notes available from the Smithsonian Institution Archives, the Smithsonian Libraries, and the National Museum of Natural History. Launched in 2010, the project’s goal is to catalog 5,000 field books and provide easy access to them.
Selected images from the public domain images are available on the library’s Flickr and Instagram pages.
From Flore des serres et des jardins de l’Europe A Gand (1845-1880)From Brasilische Pilzblumen (1895).From The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands (1771)From The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands (1771)From Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière des céphalopodes acétabuifères viants, et fossiles (1835-1848)From Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière des céphalopodes acétabuifères viants, et fossiles (1835-1848)From Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière des céphalopodes acétabuifères viants, et fossiles (1835-1848)From Delectus animalium articulatorum (1830-1834)From Delectus animalium articulatorum (1830-1834)From Atlas der Diatomaceen-Kunde (1874)From A History of British Birds From Belgique horticoleFrom Atlas ichthyologique des Indes orientales néêrlandaises (1862-1878)From Proceeding of the Zoological Society of London (1860)
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|From: FUBHO||2/22/2020 9:03:36 AM|
|Arthur Conan Doyle and the Adventure of the Boer War|
Sarah LeFanu | Published 12 February 2020
In May 1899, five months before war was declared between Britain and the two Boer Republics of South Africa, Arthur Conan Doyle turned 40. He was a big man, six feet tall and tipping the scales at 16 stone, with fair hair and a long upper lip on which he cultivated a luxuriant moustache that he combed to either side in what was known as the ‘English’ style. The epitome of the sporting type, he played cricket in the summer, football in the autumn and, in the spring, holidayed in Switzerland, where he was one of the first British tourists to strap on a pair of wooden Norwegian skis. Doyle had trained and practised as a doctor until the success of his Sherlock Holmes stories allowed him to give up medicine and become a full-time writer. He was a great admirer of Sir Walter Scott’s historical novels and he hoped that his own historical novels would form the basis of his literary reputation, along with his histories of the Boer War and the First World War.
The outbreak of war between Britain and the Boer Republics on 13 October 1899 was the culmination of a long campaign of warmongering in Cape Town by Cecil Rhodes – former prime minister of Cape Colony – and the British High Commissioner Sir Alfred Milner. Their motives were commercial – control of the gold mines in the Transvaal – and also political. Rhodes especially nurtured a grand imperialist vision that embraced the whole of Africa. However, the excuse they used for promoting war against the Boers was the position of the uitlanders – foreigners drawn to the Transvaal by the gold deposits on the Witwatersrand – who were denied the vote by the Boer government. Back in Britain, the Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain offered a sympathetic ear to the arguments put forward by Milner and Rhodes.
Conan Doyle believed passionately that in this quarrel with the Boers the uitlanders – many of them Englishmen or Scots – were the underdogs. Not everyone in Britain agreed with his analysis: his own mother Mary Doyle was far from alone in seeing the outbreak of war as an act of aggression by a greedy imperial power against two much smaller nations.
Both Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling (soon also to leave for South Africa and the arena of war) were keen for Britain to call on volunteers, to match the colonial troops from Australia, Canada and New Zealand that both men greatly admired. Doyle wrote to the Times: ‘Great Britain is full of men who can ride and shoot … it only needs a brave man and a modern rifle to make a soldier.’ He volunteered for the Imperial Yeomanry, but was turned down, possibly because of his age, possibly because of his size, most likely a combination of the two. Having volunteered, as he was ‘honour-bound’ to do after his letter to the Times, and having had his offer turned down, he was worried that walking along the street he would bump into this or that person who would greet him with a surprised, ‘Hello, Doyle, I thought you were at the front.’
If the British army refused to accept him as a soldier, however, they could hardly refuse him as a medical man: by December it was clear that the recently formed Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) was struggling to cope with the huge number of casualties. Hearing that a friend of his, John Langman, was staffing and equipping a private field hospital to be rushed out to South Africa, Doyle volunteered his services. Thus, eight years after he had given up medicine for writing, Arthur Conan Doyle, internationally famous creator of Sherlock Holmes, became once more Dr Doyle, physician to Langman’s Field Hospital.
On 28 February 1900 the 50 hospital staff gathered in the pouring rain on the Royal Albert Dock at Woolwich to board a converted P&O freighter, the SS Oriental. Once they were out at sea Doyle was one of the first to put himself forward for the newly developed inoculation against typhoid (commonly known as enteric fever). The correct dose was yet to be determined. The inoculation made Doyle feel ‘mighty sorry’ for himself, but he recovered sooner than many of the others and by the time the Oriental reached the Cape Verde Islands he was fit enough to play in the ship’s cricket team. He was also spending time writing the opening chapters of his history The Great Boer War. He was sanguine he could get it out in time for the end of the war, which he believed – as did most of the British public – would be within a matter of months.
On 28 March they disembarked at the port of East London and travelled for Bloemfontein, the capital of the Boer Republic of the Orange Free State, which had fallen to British forces under Commander-in-Chief Lord Roberts only ten days earlier. Bloemfontein lay 350 miles to the north, a journey that took four days and nights on a single-track railway line. They arrived just in time to deal with the catastrophic consequences of the Battle of Sanna’s Post, when two groups of Boer commandos had ambushed a large British column, stealing a number of the heavy guns and leaving hundreds of casualties. More significantly, the Boers had seized control of the waterworks that provided the town with clean water. Desperately thirsty men were now drinking contaminated water from old abandoned wells and from the River Modder.
Removing the wounded after battle during the Boer War, by H.M.Paget, 1900.
Within days the Langman hospital tents, erected on the cricket pitch of the Ramblers Club in the centre of Bloemfontein, were filling with cases of typhoid. ‘The outbreak was a terrible one’, wrote Conan Doyle, ‘we lived in the midst of death – and death in its vilest and filthiest form.’ At the beginning of the third week in April violent thunderstorms broke over the town. The tents stood in a swamp of mud and faeces. Doyle and his colleagues gave out their address as Café Enterique, Boulevard des Microbes. In Kipling’s poem ‘The Parting of the Columns’ the Tommies refer to the town as ‘Bloeming-typhoidtein’.
By the end of the war, when the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed in May 1902, 22,000 British and colonial troops had lost their lives. Over half of those died of disease, mainly typhoid. Conan Doyle had left South Africa in July 1900, when the front moved from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg and then Pretoria. The fall of Pretoria, the capital of the Boer Republic of the Transvaal, led to increased guerrilla activity on the part of the Boer commandos. The British responded with a ‘scorched earth’ policy, ordered by Lord Roberts and implemented by Lord Kitchener of Khartoum: they burned the Boer farms, killed the livestock, destroyed the crops and gathered up the women and children into concentration camps. Over 22,000 Boer children died in the camps, of starvation, typhoid and measles. There is no accurate figure for the mortality rate in the camps where the black population was concentrated: the 14,000 recorded deaths are considered a gross underestimation. There, too, starvation and typhoid were the killers.
Conan Doyle thought that in South Africa his own life had probably been saved by his anti-typhoid inoculation. On his return he campaigned for mandatory inoculation for all the armed forces, along with other preventive health measures such as the boiling of drinking water; he campaigned for rubber life belts for sailors in the Royal Navy (most of whom couldn’t swim) and for inflatable lifeboats for the ships they sailed in.
But he remained stubborn against any imputation that the British in South Africa had ever behaved less than honourably, a position he shared, again, with Rudyard Kipling. As details of the horrors of the concentration camps were brought back to Britain by campaigners such as Emily Hobhouse (loathed by Kitchener, vilified in the press), so public questioning grew. Journalist W.T. Stead, Doyle’s one-time friend (they shared an interest in spiritualism) but now bitter political opponent, published The War in South Africa: Methods of Barbarism, which detailed British atrocities. Doyle’s The Great Boer War, a lively but partisan and necessarily interim military account, had already been published. Now, incensed by what he perceived as scurrilous anti-patriotic propaganda, Doyle published his own The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct, which refuted the claims of Hobhouse and Stead. Just as he had taken on the cause of the uitlanders, so now he took on the cause of the traduced British soldier in South Africa. Burning farms? What burning farms? Looting and rape? What looting and rape? He wanted to show the world the British Tommy as he had known him – briefly – in Langman’s Field Hospital in Bloemfontein: stoical in the face of fever, disease and death.
Over the years other causes and other underdogs would catch Conan Doyle’s imagination. One was the case of George Edalji, son of an English mother and Indian father, who had been found guilty on no evidence of a series of attacks on horses in the area of Staffordshire where the family lived. Edalji was sentenced to a long period of imprisonment with hard labour. Doyle wrote thousands if not hundreds of thousands of words on his behalf and eventually proved Edalji’s innocence. He came to the conclusion that the young man was a victim of what we would now call institutional racism, writing: ‘The sad fact is that officialdom in England stands solid together.’ Two years later, in 1909, he put his considerable literary skills at the service of E. D. Morel’s Congo Reform Association, drawing on evidence provided by ex-diplomat Roger Casement of the atrocities being perpetrated by the regime of King Leopold of Belgium against the people of the Congo. His The Crime of the Congo was influential in alerting not just the public but also parliamentarians to the slave state that was the Congo. (Mark Twain was another writer to take up the cause with his satirical King Leopold’s Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule.)
In 1914, 15 years older and a stone or two heavier than he had been at the outbreak of the South African War, Conan Doyle (now Sir Arthur) volunteered once again and was accepted as a private with the Crowborough Company of the Sixth Royal Volunteer Regiment. His duties included supervising the work of German POWs on local farms. But he soon managed to get himself sent as a Foreign Office observer to the various front lines in Europe, where he gathered information for yet another history of an ongoing war. The British Campaign in France and Flanders was published in six volumes; it was as partisan as his history of the Boer War but lacked its liveliness. He later reflected sadly that it ‘has never come into its own’. Doyle is not now remembered for his military histories, nor for his historical novels (delightful though some of them are), nor for his important campaigns for the modernisation of disease prevention, but rather for an achievement he never rated very highly: the creation of Sherlock Holmes.
Sarah LeFanu is the author of Something of Themselves: Kipling, Kingsley, Conan Doyle and the Anglo-Boer War (Hurst, 2020).
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|To: FUBHO who wrote (6266)||2/25/2020 10:53:05 PM|
| Smithsonian Releases 2.8 Million Images Into Public Domain |
Katherine J. Wu
Culture connoisseurs, rejoice: The Smithsonian Institution is inviting the world to engage with its vast repository of resources like never before.
For the first time in its 174-year history, the Smithsonian has released 2.8 million high-resolution two- and three-dimensional images from across its collections onto an open access online platform for patrons to peruse and download free of charge. Featuring data and material from all 19 Smithsonian museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives and the National Zoo, the new digital depot encourages the public to not just view its contents, but use, reuse and transform them into just about anything they choose—be it a postcard, a beer koozie or a pair of bootie shorts.
And this gargantuan data dump is just the beginning. Throughout the rest of 2020, the Smithsonian will be rolling out another 200,000 or so images, with more to come as the Institution continues to digitize its collection of 155 million items and counting.
“Being a relevant source for people who are learning around the world is key to our mission,” says Effie Kapsalis, who is heading up the effort as the Smithsonian’s senior digital program officer. “We can’t imagine what people are going to do with the collections. We’re prepared to be surprised.”
The database’s launch also marks the latest victory for a growing global effort to migrate museum collections into the public domain. Nearly 200 other institutions worldwide—including Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago—have made similar moves to digitize and liberate their masterworks in recent years. But the scale of the Smithsonian’s release is “unprecedented” in both depth and breadth, says Simon Tanner, an expert in digital cultural heritage at King’s College London.
Spanning the arts and humanities to science and engineering, the release compiles artifacts, specimens and datasets from an array of fields onto a single online platform. Noteworthy additions include portraits of Pocahontas and Ida B. Wells, images of Muhammad Ali’s boxing headgear and Amelia Earhart’s record-shattering Lockheed Vega 5B, along with thousands of 3-D models that range in size from a petite Embreea orchid just a few centimeters in length to the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant, estimated at about 29 light-years across.
“The sheer scale of this interdisciplinary dataset is astonishing,” says Tanner, who advised Smithsonian’s open access initiative. “It opens up a much wider scope of content that crosses science and culture, space and time, in a way that no other collection out there has done, or could possibly even do. This is a staggering contribution to human knowledge.”
Until recently, the Smithsonian was among the thousands of museums and cultural centers around the world that still retained the rights to high-quality digital versions of their artworks, releasing them only upon request for personal or educational purposes and forbidding commercialization. The reluctance is often justified. Institutions may be beholden to copyrights, for instance, or worry that ceding control over certain works could lead to their exploitation or forgery, or sully their reputation through sheer overuse.
Still, Kapsalis thinks the benefits of the Smithsonian’s public push, which falls in line with the Institution’s new digital-first strategy, will far outweigh the potential downsides. “Bad actors will still do bad,” she says. “We’re empowering good actors to do good.”
One of the most tangible perks, Tanner says, is a “massive increase” in the scale of the public’s interaction with the Smithsonian—something that will maintain and boost the organization’s already substantial cultural cachet for audiences old and new, especially as content trickles onto open knowledge platforms like Wikipedia. “As soon as you open the collections up, it’s transformative,” he says.
Most of the change, however, will happen far beyond the Smithsonian’s walls. Listed under a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, the 2.8 million images in the new database are now liberated from all restrictions, copyright or otherwise, enabling anyone with a decent Internet connection to build on them as raw materials—and ultimately participate in their evolution.
“Digitizing the knowledge that’s held [at the Smithsonian] to access and reuse transfers a lot of the power to the public,” says Andrea Wallace, an expert in cultural heritage law at the University of Exeter. People are now free to interact with these images, she says, “according to their own ideas, their own parameters, their own inspirations,” completely unencumbered.
To showcase a few of the countless spin-offs that access to the collections might generate, the Smithsonian invited artists, educators and researchers for a sneak peak into the archives, and will be featuring some of their creations at a launch event set to take place this evening.
Artist Amy Karle unveils a series of sculptures of the National Museum of Natural History’s 66-million-year-old triceratops, Hatcher. (2020 Amy Karle, collaboration with SI) Among them is a series of sculptures crafted by artist Amy Karle, depicting the National Museum of Natural History’s 66-million-year-old triceratops, Hatcher. Karle, who specializes in 3-D artworks that highlight body form and function, was keen on bringing the fossil to life in an era where modern technology has made de-extinctions of ancient species a tantalizing possibility. Six of her nine 3-D printed sculptures are intricate casts of Hatcher’s spine, each slightly “remixed” in the spirit of bioengineering.
“It’s really important to share this kind of data,” Karle says. “Otherwise it’s like having a library with all the doors closed.”
Also on deck for the evening are three Smithsonian-inspired songs produced in collaboration with the Portland-based non-profit N. M. Bodecker Foundation, which offers creative mentorship to local students. Written and recorded by Bodecker mentees, the songs will hopefully make the colossal open access collection seem approachable, says Decemberists guitarist Chris Funk, who runs a recording studio on the grounds of the Bodecker Building and mentored the songs’ production.
“Historical figures probably wouldn’t be the first thing you’d hear written in modern music,” Funk says. But his students’ creations add a contemporary pop culture twist to the tales of prominent figures like Solomon Brown, the Smithsonian’s first African American employee, and Mary Henry, daughter of the Institution’s first secretary, Joseph Henry.
Additionally, author-illustrator duo Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg will debut How to Make a Collagasaurus, a how-to booklet inviting kids to transform the Smithsonian collections into zany new art forms. The approach is an echo of their 2019 children’s book, AstroNuts, which featured a cast of goofy, colorful characters pieced together from images from the Rijksmuseum’s 2013 open access launch.
In the booklet, Smithsonian founder James Smithson, backed by an entourage of AstroNuts, walks the reader through the construction of an example Collagasaurus, cobbled together from museum mainstays now in the public domain, including George Washington’s arm, a stegosaurus tail and Charlie Parker’s saxophone as an elephantine nose.
“Steven and I are perfectly built for this,” Scieszka says. “The thing I love to do is take something somebody else has, and mess it up.” The goal, he adds, is to encourage kids to do the same—and maybe even learn a thing or two along the way.
“Walking through a museum is one way you can see a work of art,” Weinberg says. “When kids make their own … that’s when you start diving deeper into a subject. They’re going to have this really rich knowledge of pieces of art.”
Spanning the arts and humanities to science and engineering, the release compiles artifacts, specimens, datasets and portraits (above: Ida B. Wells by Sallie E. Garrity) from an array of fields onto a single online platform. (NPG) A bevy of research efforts are likely to flourish under the era of open access as well. In one partnership with Google, the Smithsonian has deployed machine-learning algorithms to its datasets to flesh out its list of notable women who have shaped the history of science—an effort that’s previously been aided by contributions from the public.
“Being able to see an item is a very different thing than to make another use of it,” Tanner says. “You get innovation more frequently and earlier if the knowledge people are relying on is available openly.”
With more than 150 million additional items in its archives, museums, libraries and research centers, the Smithsonian is featuring less than 2 percent of its total collections in this initial launch. Much of the rest may someday be headed for a similar fate. But Kapsalis stresses the existence of an important subset that won’t be candidates for the public domain in the foreseeable future, including location information on endangered species, exploitative images and artifacts from marginalized communities. If released, data and materials like these could imperil the livelihood, values or even survival of a vulnerable population, she explains.
“The way people have captured some cultures in the past has not always been respectful,” Kapsalis says. “We don’t feel we could ethically share [these items] as open access.” Before that can even be discussed as a possibility, she adds, the communities affected must first be consulted and be made a crucial part of the conversation.
But Kapsalis and other Smithsonian personnel also stress the importance of avoiding erasure. Many of these materials will remain available for viewing on-site at museums or even online, but the Smithsonian will retain restrictions on their use. “Representation can empower or disempower people,” says Taína Caragol, curator of painting and sculpture and Latino art and history at the National Portrait Gallery. “It can honor someone or be mocking. We are not banning access. But some things need more context, and they need a different protocol for accessing them.”
Above all, the open access initiative forges a redefined relationship between the Smithsonian and its audiences around the world, Kapsalis says. That means trust has to go both ways. But at the same time, the launch also represents a modern-day revamp of the Institution’s mission—the “increase and diffusion of knowledge,” now tailored to all that the digital age has to offer. For the first time, visitors to the Smithsonian won’t just be observers, but participants and collaborators in its legacy.
“The Smithsonian is our national collection, the people’s collection,” Funk says. “There’s something to that. To me, this [launch] is the Smithsonian saying: ‘This is your collection, to take and create with.’ That’s really empowering.”
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|From: Tom Clarke||2/26/2020 8:24:40 AM|
|How to Avoid the Plague, 1494|
We must guard ourselves against anger, sadness, fear, worry, and pensiveness, but we should amuse ourselves and take pleasure in sweet songs, entertaining stories, and other similar things.
We should abstain from sex, if not completely, then mostly, and in such times it is not good to take a wife in marriage. Also, it is not good to have political conversations, that is, conversations about civic affairs, especially with people who are ill, or those who are prone to illness.
Pietro da Tossignano, Consiglio per la peste
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|To: Tom Clarke who wrote (6271)||2/26/2020 9:04:16 AM|
|It is amazing to see such occasional wisdom from a time when there was no science to back those early beliefs. In this regard, there is plenty of science today to show that stress lowers one's immune response. This means that one of the best defensse against illness can be to, "...guard ourselves against anger, sadness, fear, worry, and pensiveness, but we should amuse ourselves and take pleasure in sweet songs, entertaining stories, and other similar things" to help us in avoiding stress.|
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