Nov 212016
 

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On this date in  1953  The Natural History Museum in London announced that the “Piltdown Man” skull, initially believed to be one of the most important fossilized hominid skulls ever found, was a hoax. In 1912 amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson claimed he had discovered the “missing link” between ape and human. After finding a section of a human-like skull in Pleistocene gravel beds near Piltdown, East Sussex, Dawson contacted Arthur Smith Woodward, Keeper of Geology at the Natural History Museum. Dawson and Smith Woodward made further discoveries at the site which they connected to the same individual, including a jawbone, more skull fragments, a set of teeth and primitive tools.

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Smith Woodward reconstructed the skull fragments and hypothesized that they belonged to a human ancestor from 500,000 years ago. The discovery was announced at a Geological Society meeting and was given the Latin name Eoanthropus dawsoni (“Dawson’s dawn-man”). The questionable significance of the assemblage remained the subject of considerable controversy until it was conclusively exposed in 1953 as a forgery. It was found to have consisted of the altered mandible and some teeth of an orangutan deliberately combined with the cranium of a fully developed, though small-brained, modern human (from the Middle Ages).

The Piltdown hoax is prominent for two reasons: the attention it generated around the subject of human evolution in general, and the length of time, 45 years, that elapsed from its alleged initial discovery to its definitive exposure as a composite forgery.

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At a meeting of the Geological Society of London on 18 December 1912, Charles Dawson claimed that a workman at the Piltdown gravel pit had given him a fragment of the skull four years earlier. According to Dawson, workmen at the site discovered the skull shortly before his visit and broke it up in the belief that it was a fossilized coconut. Revisiting the site on several occasions, Dawson found further fragments of the skull and took them to Arthur Smith Woodward, keeper of the geological department at the British Museum. Greatly interested by the finds, Woodward accompanied Dawson to the site. Though the two worked together between June and September 1912, Dawson alone recovered more skull fragments and half of the lower jaw bone. The skull unearthed in 1908 was the only find discovered in situ, with most of the other pieces found in the gravel pits’ spoil heaps.

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At the same meeting, Woodward announced that a reconstruction of the fragments indicated that the skull was in many ways similar to that of a modern human, except for the occiput (the part of the skull that sits on the spinal column) and for brain size, which was about two-thirds that of a modern human. He went on to indicate that save for the presence of two human-like molar teeth, the jaw bone found would be indistinguishable from that of a modern, young chimpanzee. From the British Museum’s reconstruction of the skull, Woodward proposed that Piltdown Man represented an evolutionary “missing link” between apes and humans, since the combination of a human-like cranium with an ape-like jaw tended to support the notion then prevailing in England that human evolution began with the brain.

Almost from the outset, Woodward’s reconstruction of the Piltdown fragments was strongly challenged by some researchers. At the Royal College of Surgeons, copies of the same fragments used by the British Museum in their reconstruction were used to produce an entirely different model, one that in brain size and other features resembled a modern human. This reconstruction, by Prof. (later Sir) Arthur Keith, was called Homo piltdownensis in reflection of its more human appearance. The find was also considered legitimate by Otto Schoetensack who had discovered the Heidelberg fossils just a few years earlier. He described it as being the best evidence for an ape-like ancestor of modern humans. French Jesuit paleontologist and geologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin participated in the uncovering of the Piltdown skull with Woodward.

Woodward’s reconstruction included ape-like canine teeth, which was itself controversial. In August 1913, Woodward, Dawson and Teilhard de Chardin began a systematic search of the spoil heaps specifically to find the missing canines. Teilhard de Chardin soon found a canine that, according to Woodward, fitted the jaw perfectly. A few days later Teilhard de Chardin moved to France and took no further part in the discoveries. Noting that the tooth “corresponds exactly with that of an ape,” Woodward expected the find to end any dispute over his reconstruction of the skull. However, Keith attacked the find. Keith pointed out that human molars are the result of side to side movement when chewing. The canine in the Piltdown jaw was impossible as it prevented side to side movement. To explain the wear on the molar teeth, the canine could not have been any higher than the molars. Grafton Elliot Smith, a fellow anthropologist, sided with Woodward, and at the next Royal Society meeting claimed that Keith’s opposition was motivated entirely by ambition. Keith later recalled, “Such was the end of our long friendship.”

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As early as 1913, David Waterston of King’s College London published in Nature his conclusion that the sample consisted of an ape mandible and human skull. Likewise, French paleontologist Marcellin Boule concluded the same thing in 1915. A third opinion from American zoologist Gerrit Smith Miller concluded Piltdown’s jaw came from a fossil ape. In 1923, Franz Weidenreich examined the remains and correctly reported that they consisted of a modern human cranium and an orangutan jaw with filed-down teeth.

From the outset, some scientists expressed skepticism about the Piltdown find (see above). G.S. Miller, for example, observed in 1915 that “deliberate malice could hardly have been more successful than the hazards of deposition in so breaking the fossils as to give free scope to individual judgment in fitting the parts together.” In the decades prior to its exposure as a forgery in 1953, scientists increasingly regarded Piltdown as an enigmatic aberration inconsistent with the path of hominid evolution as demonstrated by fossils found elsewhere.

Finally, on this date in 1953, Time magazine published evidence gathered variously by Kenneth Page Oakley, Sir Wilfrid Edward Le Gros Clark and Joseph Weiner proving that the Piltdown Man was a forgery and demonstrating that the fossil was a composite of three distinct species. It consisted of a human skull of medieval age, the 500-year-old lower jaw of an orangutan and chimpanzee fossil teeth. Someone had created the appearance of age by staining the bones with an iron solution and chromic acid. Microscopic examination revealed file-marks on the teeth, and it was deduced from this that someone had modified the teeth to a shape more suited to a human diet.

The Piltdown Man hoax succeeded so well because, at the time of its discovery, the scientific establishment believed that the large modern brain preceded the modern omnivorous diet, and the forgery provided exactly that evidence. It has also been thought that nationalism and cultural prejudice played a role in the less-than-critical acceptance of the fossil as genuine by some British scientists. It satisfied European expectations that the earliest humans would be found in Eurasia, and the British, it has been claimed, also wanted a first Briton to set against fossil hominids found elsewhere in Europe.

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The identity of the Piltdown forger remains uncertain. Suspects have included Dawson, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Arthur Keith, Martin A. C. Hinton, Horace de Vere Cole and Arthur Conan Doyle (who lived near Piltdown). Martin Hinton is now generally deemed to be the most likely suspect. In 1970 a long-overlooked trunk was found among his belongings at the Natural History Museum containing bones and teeth that had been artificially stained and aged, similar to the Piltdown “finds.” Hinton joined the staff of the Natural History Museum in 1910, working on mammals, in particular rodents. He became Deputy Keeper of Zoology in 1927 and Keeper in 1936, retiring in 1945. Apparently he had a longstanding quarrel with Woodward, and this hoax may have been payback. Newspapers have tended to be less than cautious in asserting that Hinton was the perpetrator of the hoax. He is definitely a strong contender.

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The area of Sussex around Piltdown is well known for an abundance of traditional recipes. Here’s Ashdown partridge pudding. Suet puddings are not as popular as they used to be because of the heavy doses of animal fat in the crust, but I love them. I see that I have never given a recipe for suet pastry. It’s not complicated mix together a 3 to 1 ratio of flour and finely shredded suet. Mix together thoroughly and then add cold water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough coheres but is not damp. Work it with your hands on a floured surface to make it pliable. This recipe makes a pretty big pudding.

Ashdown Partridge Pudding

Ingredients

1 partridge, jointed
2 oz mushrooms, sliced
2 oz rump steak, sliced
¼ cup claret,
2 tsp dried mixed herbs (sage, thyme)
½ pt game or beef stock,
2lb suet paste

Instructions

Line a well greased pudding basin with 2/3 of the suet paste, and place in the partridge, beef, mushrooms and herbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and pour over the claret and enough of the stock to cover. Cover with the remaining paste, tie down with a covering of greaseproof paper and a pudding cloth or kitchen foil. Place the basin in the top of a steamer and steam for about 3 hrs. Turn the pudding out on a warmed serving platter, and serve hot.

Oct 162016
 

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On this date in 1906 Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt (13 February 1849 – 3 January 1922), a Prussian shoemaker, masqueraded as a Prussian military officer, rounded up a number of soldiers under his “command,” and “confiscated” more than 4,000 marks from a municipal treasury. Although he served two years in prison, he became a folk hero as The Captain of Köpenick. Later he was pardoned by Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Voigt was born in Tilsit which was then in Prussia (now Sovetsk, Kaliningrad Oblast). In 1863, aged 14, he was sentenced to 14 days in prison for theft, which led to his expulsion from school. Subsequently he learned shoemaking from his father. Between 1864 and 1891, Voigt was sentenced to prison for a total of 25 years for thefts, forgery and burglary. The longest sentence was a 15-year conviction for an unsuccessful burglary of a court cashier’s office. He was released on 12 February 1906.

Voigt drifted from place to place until he went to live with his sister in Rixdorf near Berlin. He was briefly employed by a well-reputed shoemaker until the local police expelled him from Berlin as an undesirable, based solely on the fact that he was an ex-convict, on 24 August 1906. Officially he left for Hamburg, although he remained in Berlin as an unregistered resident.

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On 16 October 1906 Voigt performed his famous hoax. He had purchased parts of used captain’s uniforms from different shops and tested their effect on soldiers. He had resigned from the shoe factory ten days previously. He took the uniform out of baggage storage, put it on and went to the local army barracks, stopped four grenadiers and a sergeant on their way back to barracks and told them to come with him. Indoctrinated to obey officers without question, they followed. He dismissed the commanding sergeant to report to his superiors and later commandeered six more soldiers from a shooting range. Then he took a train to Köpenick, east of Berlin at that time, occupied the local city hall with his soldiers and told them to cover all exits. He told the local police to “care for law and order” and to “prevent calls to Berlin for one hour” at the local post office.

He had the treasurer von Wiltberg and mayor Georg Langerhans arrested, supposedly for suspicions of crooked bookkeeping, and confiscated 4002 marks and 37 pfennigs – with a receipt, of course (he signed it with his former jail director’s name). Then he commandeered two carriages and told the grenadiers to take the arrested men to the Neue Wache in Berlin for interrogation. He told the remaining guards to stand in their places for half an hour and then left for the train station. He later changed into civilian clothes and disappeared.

In the following days the German press speculated on what had really happened. At the same time the army ran its own investigation. The public seemed to be positively amused by the daring of the culprit.

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Voigt was arrested on 26 October and on 1 December sentenced to four years in prison for forgery, impersonating an officer and wrongful imprisonment. However, much of public opinion was on his side. German Kaiser Wilhelm II pardoned him on August 16, 1908. There are some claims that even the Kaiser was amused by the incident, referring to him as an amiable scoundrel, and being pleased with the authority and feelings of reverence that his military obviously commanded in the general population.

The British press was also amused, seeing it as confirmation of their stereotypes about Germans. In its 27 October 1906 issue, the editors of The Illustrated London News noted gleefully:

For years the Kaiser has been instilling into his people reverence for the omnipotence of militarism, of which the holiest symbol is the German uniform. Offences against this fetish have incurred condign punishment. Officers who have not considered themselves saluted in due form have drawn their swords with impunity on offending privates.

In that same issue G. K. Chesterton pointed out:

The most absurd part of this absurd fraud (at least, to English eyes) is one which, oddly enough, has received comparatively little comment. I mean the point at which the Mayor asked for a warrant, and the Captain pointed to the bayonets of his soldiery and said, ‘These are my authority’. One would have thought anyone would have known that no soldier would talk like that.

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Voigt capitalized on his fame. His wax figure appeared in the wax museum in Unter den Linden four days after his release. He appeared in the museum to sign his pictures but public officials banned the appearances on the same day. He appeared in small theaters in a play that depicted his exploit and signed more photographs as the Captain of Köpenick. In spite of the ban he toured in Dresden, Vienna and Budapest in variety shows, restaurants and amusement parks. In 1909, he published a book in Leipzig, How I became the Captain of Köpenick, which sold well. Although his United States tour almost failed because the immigration authorities refused to grant him a visa, he arrived in 1910 via Canada. He also ended up in Madame Tussaud’s museum in London.

In 1910, he moved to Luxembourg and worked as a waiter and shoemaker. He received a life pension from a rich Berlin dowager. Two years later, he bought a house and retired although post-World War I inflation destroyed his wealth. Voigt died in Luxembourg in 1922.

In 1931, German author Carl Zuckmayer wrote a play about the affair called The Captain of Köpenick, which shifts the focus from the event at Köpenick itself to the prelude, showing how his surroundings and his situation in life had helped Voigt form his plan. An English language adaptation was written by John Mortimer, and first performed by the National Theatre company at the Old Vic on 9 March 1971 with Paul Scofield in the title role.

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Various movies were produced about Wilhelm Voigt (most of them based on Zuckmayer’s play), among them Der Hauptmann von Köpenick (1931); The Captain from Köpenick (1945), starring Albert Bassermann; Der Hauptmann von Köpenick (1956), with Heinz Rühmann; the 1960 TV movie Der Hauptmann von Köpenick, featuring Rudolf Platte; and the 1997 TV movie Der Hauptmann von Köpenick, starring Harald Juhnke. The basic line of stageplays and movies was the pitiful catch-22 situation of Voigt trying to earn his living honorably in Berlin: “No residence address – no job. No job – no residence (rented room). No residence – no passport. No passport – getting ousted.”

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I am a big fan of hoaxes, especially when they make a point. Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group are famous for the Dreadnought Hoax when they dressed as “Abyssinian” ambassadors and fooled the London establishment. Such hoaxes are much harder to pull off in these days of heightened awareness of terrorist threats, of course, and could be dangerous. Food hoaxes, however, are still fair game. Presenting one food as another is a trick that dates to antiquity. The ancient Romans were famous for disguising one food as another. In modern times we still have pranksters:

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I’ve mentioned several possibilities before – notably cutting pound cake to resemble French fries and serving them with raspberry jam “ketchup.” Making desserts look like savory dishes is not complicated – it just requires a little imagination. The opposite – savories masquerading as desserts – is a little harder to pull off successfully, but some ideas spring to mind. It would be easy enough, I suspect, to make a “trifle” using mayonnaise colored with saffron for the “custard” and smoked haddock for the “cake” with various pickles for the “crystallized fruit.” In fact, I think this would make a delicious dish. You could use whipped sour cream for the topping.  Have at it.

Mar 162014
 

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Today is the feast of St Urho, an invented saint who is supposedly the Finnish version of St Patrick.  I hope you see the humor in it all.The legend of Saint Urho was the invention of a Finnish-American named Richard Mattson, who worked at Ketola’s Department Store in Virginia, Minnesota in spring of 1956. Mattson later recounted that he invented St. Urho when he was questioned by coworker Gene McCavic about the Finns’ lack of a saint like the Irish St. Patrick, whose feat of casting the snakes out of Ireland is remembered on St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, the patron saint of Finland is Henry (Bishop of Finland).

According to the original “Ode to St. Urho” written by Gene McCavic and Richard Mattson, St. Urho was supposed to have cast “tose ‘Rogs” (those frogs) out of Finland by the power of his loud voice, which he obtained by drinking “feelia sour” (sour whole milk) and eating kala mojakka (fish soup).

Ode to Saint Urho
by Gene McCavic and Richard Mattson
Virginia, Minnesota

Ooksi kooksi coolama vee
Santia Urho is ta poy for me!
He sase out ta hoppers as pig as pirds.
Neffer peefor haff I hurd tose words!

He reely tolt tose pugs of kreen
Braffest Finn I effer seen
Some celebrate for St. Pat unt hiss nakes
Putt Urho poyka kot what it takes.

He kot tall and trong from feelia sour
Unt ate kala moyakka effery hour.
Tat’s why tat kuy could sase toes peetles
What krew as thick as chack bine neetles.

So let’s give a cheer in hower pest vay
On Sixteenth of March, St. Urho’s Tay.

The original “Ode to St. Urho” identified St. Urho’s Day as taking place on May 24. Later the date was changed to March 16, the day before St. Patrick’s Day. St. Urho’s feast is supposed to be celebrated by wearing the colors Royal Purple and Nile Green. Other details of the invented legend also changed, apparently under the influence of Dr. Sulo Havumäki, a psychology professor at Bemidji State College in Bemidji, Minnesota. The legend now states that St. Urho drove away grasshoppers (rather than frogs) from Finland using the incantation “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!” (“Grasshopper, grasshopper, go from hence to Hell!”), thus saving the Finnish grape crops. Another version of the modern celebration of St. Urho’s Day is that it was created by Kenneth Brist of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Brist, a high school teacher, was teaching in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the early to mid-1950s in an area largely populated by people of Finnish heritage. He and his friends concocted March 16 as St. Urho’s Day so that they had two days to celebrate, the next day being St. Patrick’s Day.

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The designation of St. Urho as patron saint of the Finnish is particularly humorous because 82.5% of the Finnish population is affiliated with the Lutheran Church, which does not recognize Feasts of Saints. Brist promoted the “annual cancellation” of the St. Urho’s Day Parade in Chippewa Falls with advertisements in the Chippewa Herald Telegram and by teaching his high school students about the legend of St. Urho. The “Ode to St. Urho” has been modified to reflect these changes in the feast day and legend. The Ode is written in a self-parodying form of English as spoken by Finnish immigrants known as Finnglish. There is also a “Ballad of St. Urho” written by Sally Karttunen.

Ballad of St Urho
Finnglish words by Sally Karttunen to the tune of Kuka Sen Saunan Lämmitää

St. Urho was a Finnish lad,
A blue eyed, blond hair poika,
St. Urho, bashful suomalainen
Ate grapes and kala mojakkaa.

He chased those big green bugs away,
“Heinäsirkka, mene pois!”
He said it loudly, just one time —
Tose ‘hoppers had no choice!

And so the Finns are here right now,
To celebrate Dear Urho,
And sing and dance in temperatures…..
It’s always way ‘plo zero!

Then in snowbanks deep and rivers iced,
To our saunas we will go, oh!
Cuz’ Urho is our hero, now,
As all good Finns must know!

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St Urho’s Song
Finglish words by Sally Karttunen to the tune of: Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush

St. Urho, little Finnish lad,
A blond haired lad, a blue eyed lad,
St. Urho, bashful Finnish lad,
Chased ‘tos grasshoppers ‘vay,

An tats vhy Finns still ‘member him,
And tans wid him and sing wid him,
An tats why Finns eat grapes wid him,
An haf dat Urho’s Tay!

[Brief note on the Finnish language: Finnish has several fewer consonants than English. Missing are B, C, D, and G. Consequently there are no sounds for those letters, and B becomes P, C becomes S or K, D becomes T, and G becomes K. When Finnish rally drivers talk about transmission problems with their cars, they refer to it as a “kearpox”. There are also no definite or indefinite articles in Finnish sentence structure — “the,” “a,” or “an” are not part of Finnish grammar.]

The selection of the name Urho as the saint’s name was probably influenced by the accession of Urho Kekkonen to the presidency of Finland in 1956. Urho in the Finnish language also has the meaning of hero or simply brave. There were several Finnish names suggested, but Saint Ero or Saint Jussi, or even Toivo or Eino, just didn’t have the correct ring of a saintly name.

There are St. Urho fan clubs in Canada and Finland as well as the U.S., and the festival is celebrated on March 16 in many American and Canadian communities with Finnish roots. The original statue of St. Urho is located in Menahga, Minnesota. Another interesting chainsaw-carved St. Urho statue is located in Finland, Minnesota. There is a beer restaurant called St. Urho’s Pub in central Helsinki, Finland. A 2001 book, The Legend of St. Urho by Joanne Asala, presents much of the folklore surrounding St. Urho and includes an essay by Richard Mattson on the “birth” of St. Urho.

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On March 16, 1999 in Kaleva, Michigan a large Metal Sculpture of a Grasshopper was Dedicated in honor of St. Urho’s day. Kaleva is a community settled by Finnish Immigrants in 1900. In fact Kaleva is named after the Kalevala, the Epic Finnish story about the Creation of the Earth. Many places with mixed populations of Finnish and Irish have an annual St. Urho’s day event on the night before St. Patrick’s Day. Butte, Montana holds such a celebration each March 16.

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Was St. Urho a Failure? According to the website www.SaintUrho.com they recently received a book that indicates the grasshopper population in Finland is thriving. The book is titled Suomen heinäsirkat ja hepokatit (The Grasshoppers and Crickets of Finland) by  Sami Karjalainen. It is 200 pages long full of color photos of Finnish grasshoppers. The book also includes a CD with grasshopper calls.

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Urho grew strong on fish soup so here is my version of the Finno-American classic kala mojakka. It is a fairly generic creamed white fish soup flavored with thyme and dill. I made this today making enough for 2 because I live alone and don’t want to be eating fish soup for a week.

©Kala mojakka

Ingredients:

1 medium sized potato, peeled and sliced
9 ozs/250g firm white fish fillet, preferably perch, pike, or trout
1 tbsp butter
1 leek, sliced (white and pale green parts only)
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch thyme
salt and white pepper
2 tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk
2 tbsps heavy cream (optional)
1 tbsp fresh dill

Instructions:

Bring 4 cups of salted water to the boil, add the potatoes, and simmer until they are soft.  Use a slotted spoon to remove them and reserve.

Keeping the water on simmer, add the fish and poach until barely cooked through (about 8 minutes).  Remove the fish with a slotted spoon and reserve along with the potatoes.  Reserve the cooking liquid in a bowl.

Melt the butter in the pot and add the onion, leek, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper and sauté until soft. Add the flour and mix well to combine, forming a blond roux. Add one cup of the cooking water, stirring well to avoid lumps. Then add plus 2 cups milk (plus cream if used). Simmer for 15 minutes.

Flake the fish and add it and the potatoes and dill 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Check seasonings and serve with buttered crusty bread.

Serves 2