Miscellaneous distractions

Much like the rest of the country, I’m on the road today. While I’m being hassled by the TSA and marching through airports with the joylessly heavy pace of the workers entering and exiting the factory in Metropolis, you can frolic through the following fragrant, flowering historical meadows.

Mrs. Virginia Davis works in the assembly and repair department, the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas, 1942Need to prepare mentally for the trauma of Thanksgiving dinner? Not in the mood to read much? Here are 1600 color photographs taken by the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information between 1939 and 1944. They were taken all over the United States, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands and focus on rural life, farm labor and World War II industrial production. It’s a neat contrast. You go from mule teams pulling a cart in Georgia to a state fair in Vermont to real life Rosie-the-Riveters. The color is great too, still rich after all these years.

Roman remains found in BanwellIf it’s the excitement of a new historical discovery you require to keep you sane, check out this article about a wealth of Roman remains, human and material, unearthed during the construction of a water main in Bramwell, North Somerset. They’ve found three inhumation burials, one of them in a partially preserved wooden coffin; several Roman brooches, including a small one that may have belonged to a child; a 4th century coin from the reign of Constantine the Great; a bone stylus; a bronze bracelet; and 9,000 pieces of pottery. The article is a fascinating read not so much because of the things found, but because of the picture they paint of Roman history in the area. Evidence of a removed wall and charcoal deposits, for instance, suggest a structure was destroyed by fire. Fragments of tiles in the debris indicate the building that once stood there was a sumptuous one with its own hypocaust heating system for a private bath.

Archaeologists dig up skeletons of Norse settlers in Greenland, 2010Perhaps you need some reassurance that no matter how much turkey you’ll be force-fed, you could always be worse off. You could be a Viking in 14th century Greenland where in order to survive, you’d have to eat mainly seals. According to a Danish-Canadian study of 80 Greenlandic Norse skeletons, 50 to 80 per cent of their diet was composed of seal meat. That’s not how it was supposed to be. When they first settled in Greenland, the Norse planned to farm and raise stock they had brought with them. As the climate cooled and it became increasingly clear that Greenland was poorly named, they had to supplement their diets with seafood. Eventually, seals became staples for them just as they were for the Inuit who had moved to Greenland from Canada in the early 13th century. (Did you know that the Inuit and Norse lived side by side in medieval Greenland? I did not know that.) No doubt the blubbery monotony of the seal-based diet played a part in the eventual Viking abandonment of Greenland.

Hunt's Link variation patented in 1877 by George G. HuntFinally, if you’re feeling a little hemmed in, consider the unexpectedly awesome story of collectible barbed wire. Until yesterday, it didn’t even occur to me that people would collect rusty, pointy, dangerous chunks of old wire fences, but they do and now I can see why because there are some incredibly intricate, beautiful period designs. Barbed wire came into its own in the second half of the 19th century, spurred on by the growth of the railroads and the demise of the open range brought on by homesteaders fencing in former pasture they’d converted to farm land. Ranchers and farmers went to war over barbed wire. Barbed wire designers went to war with each other to secure patents. Fortunes were made and lost thanks to barbed wire.