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In ancient Mesopotamia, sex among the gods shook heaven and earth



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The “Burney Relief,” which is believed to represent either Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war, or her older sister Ereshkigal, Queen of the underworld (c. 19th or 18th century BC)
BabelStone

Louise Pryke, Macquarie University

In our sexual histories series, authors explore changing sexual mores from antiquity to today.


Sexuality was central to life in ancient Mesopotamia, an area of the Ancient Near East often described as the cradle of western civilisation roughly corresponding to modern-day Iraq, Kuwait, and parts of Syria, Iran and Turkey. It was not only so for everyday humans but for kings and even deities.

Mesopotamian deities shared many human experiences, with gods marrying, procreating and sharing households and familial duties. However when love went wrong, the consequences could be dire in both heaven and on earth.

Scholars have observed the similarities between the divine “marriage machine” found in ancient literary works and the historical courtship of mortals, although it is difficult to disentangle the two, most famously in so-called “sacred marriages”, which saw Mesopotamian kings marrying deities.




Read more:
Guide to the classics: the Epic of Gilgamesh


Divine sex

Gods, being immortal and generally of superior status to humans, did not strictly need sexual intercourse for population maintenance, yet the practicalities of the matter seem to have done little to curb their enthusiasm.

Sexual relationships between Mesopotamian deities provided inspiration for a rich variety of narratives. These include Sumerian myths such as Enlil and Ninlil and Enki and Ninhursag, where the complicated sexual interactions between deities was shown to involve trickery, deception and disguise.

The goddess Ishtar as depicted in Myths and legends of Babylonia & Assyria, 1916, by Lewis Spence.
Wikimedia

In both myths, a male deity adopts a disguise, and then attempts to gain sexual access to the female deity — or to avoid his lover’s pursuit. In the first, the goddess Ninlil follows her lover Enlil down into the Underworld, and barters sexual favours for information on Enlil’s whereabouts. The provision of a false identity in these myths is used to circumnavigate societal expectations of sex and fidelity.

Sexual betrayal could spell doom not only for errant lovers but for the whole of society. When the Queen of the Underworld, Ereshkigal, is abandoned by her lover, Nergal, she threatens to raise the dead unless he is returned to her, alluding to her right to sexual satiety.

The goddess Ishtar makes the same threat in the face of a romantic rejection from the king of Uruk in the Epic of Gilgamesh. It is interesting to note that both Ishtar and Ereshkigal, who are sisters, use one of the most potent threats at their disposal to address matters of the heart.




Read more:
Friday essay: the legend of Ishtar, first goddess of love and war


The plots of these myths highlight the potential for deceit to create alienation between lovers during courtship. The less-than-smooth course of love in these myths, and their complex use of literary imagery, have drawn scholarly comparisons with the works of Shakespeare.

Love poetry

Ancient authors of Sumerian love poetry, depicting the exploits of divine couples, show a wealth of practical knowledge on the stages of female sexual arousal. It’s thought by some scholars that this poetry may have historically had an educational purpose: to teach inexperienced young lovers in ancient Mesopotamia about intercourse. It’s also been suggested the texts had religious purposes, or possibly magical potency.

Several texts write of the courtship of a divine couple, Inanna (the Semitic equivalent of Ishtar) and her lover, the shepherd deity Dumuzi. The closeness of the lovers is shown through a sophisticated combination of poetry and sensuousness imagery – perhaps providing an edifying example for this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction nominees.

Ancient Sumerian cylinder seal impression showing Dumuzid being tortured in the Underworld by the galla demons.
British Museum

In one of the poems, elements of the female lover’s arousal are catalogued, from the increased lubrication of her vulva, to the “trembling” of her climax. The male partner is presented delighting in his partner’s physical form, and speaking kindly to her. The feminine perspective on lovemaking is emphasised in the texts through the description of the goddess’ erotic fantasies. These fantasies are part of the preparations of the goddess for her union, and perhaps contribute to her sexual satisfaction.

Female and male genitals could be celebrated in poetry, the presence of dark pubic hair on the goddess’ vulva is poetically described through the symbolism of a flock of ducks on a well-watered field or a narrow doorway framed in glossy black lapis-lazuli.

The representation of genitals may also have served a religious function: temple inventories have revealed votive models of pubic triangles, some made of clay or bronze. Votive offerings in the shape of vulvae have been found in the city of Assur from before 1000 BC.

Happy goddess, happy kingdom

Divine sex was not the sole preserve of the gods, but could also involve the human king. Few topics from Mesopotamia have captured the imagination as much as the concept of sacred marriage. In this tradition, the historical Mesopotamian king would be married to the goddess of love, Ishtar. There is literary evidence for such marriages from very early Mesopotamia, before 2300 BC, and the concept persevered into much later periods.

The relationship between historical kings and Mesopotamian deities was considered crucial to the successful continuation of earthly and cosmic order. For the Mesopotamian monarch, then, the sexual relationship with the goddess of love most likely involved a certain amount of pressure to perform.

In ancient Mesopotamia, a goddess’ vulva could be compared to a flock of ducks.
Shutterstock.com

Some scholars have suggested these marriages involved a physical expression between the king and another person (such as a priestess) embodying the goddess. The general view now is that if there were a physical enactment to a sacred marriage ritual it would have been conducted on a symbolic level rather than a carnal one, with the king perhaps sharing his bed with a statue of the deity.

Agricultural imagery was often used to describe the union of goddess and king. Honey, for instance, is described as sweet like the goddess’ mouth and vulva.

A love song from the city of Ur between 2100-2000 BC is dedicated to Shu-Shin, the king, and Ishtar:

In the bedchamber dripping with honey let us enjoy over and over your allure, the sweet thing. Lad, let me do the sweetest things to you. My precious sweet, let me bring you honey.

Sex in this love poetry is depicted as a pleasurable activity that enhanced loving feelings of intimacy. This sense of increased closeness was considered to bring joy to the heart of the goddess, resulting in good fortune and abundance for the entire community — perhaps demonstrating an early Mesopotamian version of the adage “happy wife, happy life”.

The diverse presentation of divine sex creates something of a mystery around the causes for the cultural emphasis on cosmic copulation. While the presentation of divine sex and marriage in ancient Mesopotamia likely served numerous purposes, some elements of the intimate relationships between gods shows some carry-over to mortal unions.

The ConversationWhile dishonesty between lovers could lead to alienation, positive sexual interactions held countless benefits, including greater intimacy and lasting happiness.

Louise Pryke, Lecturer, Languages and Literature of Ancient Israel, Macquarie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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FDR’s forest army: How the New Deal helped seed the modern environmental movement 85 years ago



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Bridge built by CCC workers, Shady Lake Recreation Area, Arkansas.
Jerry Turner, CC BY-SA

Benjamin Alexander, City University of New York

Eighty-five years ago, on April 5, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order allocating US$10 million for “Emergency Conservation Work.” This step launched one of the New Deal’s signature relief programs: the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC. Its mission was to put unemployed Americans to work improving the nation’s natural resources, especially forests and public parks.

Today, when Americans talk about “big government,” the connotation is almost always negative. But as I show in my history of the Corps, this agency infused money into the economy at a time when it was urgently needed, and its work had lasting value.

Corps workers planted trees, built dams and preserved historic battlefields. They left trail networks and lodges in state and national parks that are still widely used today. The CCC taught useful skills to thousands of unemployed young men, and inspired later generations to get outside and help conserve America’s public lands.

CCC recruits at work in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, 1936.

The spiritual value of outdoor work

Roosevelt had sketched out much of his concept for the CCC well before his inauguration on March 4, 1933. Proposing the corps on March 21, he asserted that it would be “of definite, practical value” to the nation and the men it enrolled:

“The overwhelming majority of unemployed Americans, who are now walking the streets and receiving private or public relief, would infinitely prefer to work. We can take a vast army of these unemployed out into healthful surroundings. We can eliminate to some extent at least the threat that enforced idleness brings to spiritual and moral stability.”

Congress enacted the bill on March 31, and Roosevelt signed it that day. Although there was no precedent for such a vast mobilization, enrollment started a week later in New York, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and other major cities, then fanned out across the country. By midsummer, some 250,000 men aged 18 to 25 had signed up. Their six-month term might be spent at one camp or several; it might be located across the continent or, rarely, just across town.

Poster by Albert M. Bender, Illinois WPA Art Project, Chicago, 1935.
Library of Congress

Another day, another dollar

CCC recruits came from families on relief. Agents from local welfare offices screened prospects, then passed them along to the Army for a physical examination and a final decision. The Army also managed the huge task of transporting successful applicants to hundreds of work camps. The corps established operations in all 48 states and the territories of Puerto Rico, Alaska, Hawaii and the Virgin Islands, as well as a separate American Indian division.

Most enrollees were young unmarried men, but the CCC also created special companies of war veterans. This policy was Roosevelt’s response to the 1932 Bonus March, in which thousands of World War I veterans camped out in Washington, D.C., demanding early payment on promised military service bonuses, only to be evicted at gunpoint by order of then-president Herbert Hoover. (Some scholars believe this debacle helped clinch Roosevelt’s election later that year.)

CCC recruits could only bring a single trunk; tools were provided on-site. Many Corps members packed musical instruments, and some brought their dogs, which became company mascots. At the start many recruits slept in tents and bathed in nearby rivers. Those without experience in the great outdoors learned key lessons fast, such as how to avoid using poison ivy for toilet paper. Some succumbed to homesickness and dropped out, but most adjusted, forming baseball teams, music combos and boxing leagues.

Although the CCC was a civilian organization, the camps were run by the Army and bore some of its hallmarks. Dining facilities were called mess halls, beds had to be made tightly enough to bounce a quarter off them, and workers woke to the sound of reveille and went to sleep with taps. Commanding officers had final say over most issues.

At work sites, the Agriculture and Interior departments – custodians of U.S. public lands – were in charge. CCC members planted 3 billion trees, earning the nickname “Roosevelt’s tree army.” This work revitalized U.S. national forests and created shelter belts across the Great Plains to reduce the risk of dust storms. The corps also surveyed and treated forests to control insect pests and created forest fire prevention systems. Over its decade of operation, 42 enrollees and five supervisors died fighting forest fires.

Major planting areas for the Shelterbelt Project, 1933-42.
U.S. Forest Service

Corps members created and landscaped 711 state parks, and built lodges and hiking trails in dozens of national parks and monument areas. Many of these facilities are still in use today. Attractions including the Grand Canyon, Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, and Civil War battlefields at Gettysburg and Shiloh bear signatures of CCC work.

For their labors, corps members received $30 a month – but as a condition of enrollment, the CCC sent $22 to $25 each pay period home to their families. Still, at Depression prices, $5 was enough to visit nearby dance halls and meet girls once or twice a week. These forays sometimes ended in fights with jealous local men, but also led to many lifelong marriages.

Ripple effects

In total, close to 3 million workers and their families received support from the CCC between 1933 and 1942. The corps also provided jobs for well over 250,000 salaried employees, including reserve military officers who ran the camps and so-called “local experienced men” – unemployed foresters who lived near the camps and were hired mainly to help supervise enrollees on the job.

Camps also hired unemployed teachers to offer informal evening classes. Some 57,000 enrollees learned to read and write during their CCC stints. Camps offered many other classes, from standard subjects like history and arithmetic to vocational skills such as radio, carpentry and auto repair.

Like other New Deal programs, the CCC had flaws. Party patronage heavily influenced hiring of salaried personnel. Although the law creating the CCC banned racial discrimination, black enrollment was capped. Many African-American enrollees were housed in “colored camps” and could only go into town for recreation and romance if black communities existed to serve them.

A racially mixed CCC Company in Pineland, Texas in 1933, with African-American members grouped at far right.
University of North Texas Libraries., CC BY-ND

The CCC also discriminated socially, enrolling young men with families but excluding rootless transients who wandered from town to town in search of work and food. These men could have reaped great benefits from the CCC, but its leaders imagined an unbridgeable cultural gap between young men who came from families and others who came from the byroads. And the corps only enrolled men, although Eleanor Roosevelt convinced her husband to let her and Labor Secretary Frances Perkins organize a smaller network of “She-She-She” camps for jobless women.

Congress terminated funding for the CCC in 1942, after the United States entered World War II, although Roosevelt argued that it still played an essential role. Many men who had gained physical strength and learned to handle Army discipline in the CCC later entered the armed forces.

The tree army’s legacy

Beyond its physical impact, the corps helped to broaden public support for conservation. In the 1940s and 1950s, youth groups such as the Oregon-based Green Guards volunteered in local forests clearing flammable underbrush, cutting fire breaks and serving as fire lookouts. Others, such as the Student Conservation Association, advocated for wilderness protection and conservation education. Hundreds of former CCC enrollees helped lead these efforts. Today many teenagers work in national parks, forests and wildlife refuges every summer.

The ConversationAlthough it is hard to picture a CCC-style initiative winning political support today, some of its ideas still resonate. Notably, the Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan and some proposals for upgrading U.S. infrastructure present federal spending on projects that benefit society as a legitimate way to stimulate economic growth. The CCC combined that strategy with the idea that America’s natural resources should be protected so that everyone could enjoy them.

Benjamin Alexander, Lecturer in social science, New York City College of Technology, City University of New York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The day bananas made their British debut


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Thomas Johnson’s illustration of his banana plant from The Herball Or Generall Historie of Plantes.
Wikimedia Commons

Rebecca Earle, University of Warwick

When Carmen Miranda sashayed her way into the hearts of Britain’s war-weary population in films such as The Gang’s All Here and That Night in Rio, her combination of tame eroticism and tropical fruit proved irresistible. Imagine having so much fruit you could wear it as a hat. To audiences suffering the strictures of rationing, Miranda’s tropical headgear shouted exoticism and abundance – with a touch of phallic sensuality thrown in.

In 1940s and 1950s Britain, bananas represented luxury, sunshine and sexiness. But entranced cinema-goers might have been surprised to learn that the bananas in Miranda’s tutti-frutti hat were in all probability descended from a strain developed in a hothouse at a stately home in Derbyshire, in England’s picturesque – but decidedly non-tropical – Midlands.

England got its first glimpse of the banana when herbalist, botanist and merchant Thomas Johnson displayed a bunch in his shop in Holborn, in the City of London, on April 10, 1633. He included the woodcut you see at the top of this article in his “very much enlarged” edition of John Gerard’s popular botanical encyclopedia, The herball or generall historie of plantes.

Page 1516 of the Johnson edition of The herball or generall historie of plantes.
Wellcome Images

Johnson’s single stem of bananas came from the recently colonised island of Bermuda. We don’t know what variety it was – but these days the chances are that any banana you will find in a British supermarket will be descended from the Cavendish banana. This strain was developed in the 19th century by the head gardener at Chatsworth House, John Paxton. His invention is called the Cavendish, rather than the Paxton, after the family name of the owners of the Chatsworth estate, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.

Paxton spent several years developing his banana. In 1835 his plant finally bore fruit, which won him a prize from the Royal Horticultural Society.

The Cavendish slowly gained popularity as a cultigen, but its current dominance is the result of a calamity. The genetic uniformity of commercial banana plantations is a hostage to ill-fortune. During the 1950s a virulent fungal pathogen wiped out the previously ubiquitous Gros Michel variety. The Cavendish stepped into the space left by the attack of Panama Disease. There is no reason to assume the fate suffered by the Gros Michel will not befall the Cavendish. What then will adorn our bowls of cereal and add volume to our smoothies?




Read more:
Disease may wipe out world’s bananas – but here’s how we might just save them


Taste of the tropics

Europeans have long associated bananas with the exotic pleasures of distant, island paradises. When the exhausted Ilarione da Bergamo arrived in the Caribbean in 1761 after a long sea voyage, the sight of the local fruit convinced the Italian friar that the travails of his protracted journey had been worthwhile. “Thus I began enjoying the delights of America,” he noted in his diary. Travellers marvelled at the exuberance of new-world nature, which – unlike her more parsimonious European sister – offered ripe, sweet fruit all year round.

The opportunity to gorge on sugary fruits became part of the European image of the tropics. The historian David Arnold pointed out that, in English: “One of the earliest and most enduring uses of the adjective ‘tropical’ was to describe fruit.”

De negro e india, china cambuja, by Miguel Cabrera (1695–1768).
Museum of the Americas

And of course these juicy, succulent treasures quickly became associated, not only with the tropics, but also with the sexual allure travellers projected onto women in the torrid zone. Women and tropical fruits merged into one delightful commodity in the overheated imagination of the US journalist, Carleton Beals, as he travelled through Costa Rica in the 1930s. “And the women,” he wrote breathlessly in Banana Gold, “their firm ample flesh seems ready to burst through the satin skin—like ripe fruit!”. Carmen Miranda’s provocative wink and her banana hat played masterfully on this centuries-old association.

Banana republics

Bananas originated in South-East Asia and were brought to the New World by European settlers – who, by the 19th century, were growing them on vast plantations in the Caribbean. Labour conditions on banana plantations were often atrocious. When underpaid workers at a plantation on Colombia’s Caribbean coast struck for better working conditions in 1928, they were gunned down by Colombian troops probably called in at the behest of the United Fruit Company.

The novelist Gabriel García Márquez immortalised this tragedy in a memorable scene in his One Hundred Years of Solitude. “Look at the mess we’ve got ourselves into,” one of his characters remarks, “just because we invited a gringo to eat some bananas”.

Banana plantation in Nicaragua, 1894.
Popular Science Monthly

Far worse messes were to occur in Guatemala in 1954, when the United Fruit Company cooperated closely with the Guatemalan military and the US State Department to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Jacobo Arbenz, who had made the mistake of nationalising some of the unused lands owned by the fruit company. The coup ushered in decades of military rule, during which the government, locked in a struggle with the guerrilla movement that inevitably arose in response, engaged in what many scholars have described as genocide against the Maya population.

The ConversationToday, bananas are so commonplace – thanks, of course, to industrial-scale production and working conditions that continue to attract critique – that they scarcely conjure up the delight they once inspired in the travel-fatigued Ilarione da Bergamo and weary postwar cinema goers. Since April 10 2018 marks the 385th anniversary of the day in 1633 when bananas were displayed for the first time to Londoners, it’s worth pondering the complex history behind the everyday banana.

Rebecca Earle, Professor of HIstory, University of Warwick

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The history of the Hollywood sign, from public nuisance to symbol of stardom



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George Brich/AP Photo

Leo Braudy, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Every year at the Oscars, the cameras pan to the famed Hollywood sign and its bold white letters.

Ask someone today what the sign symbolizes, and the same words will likely crop up: Movies. Stardom. Glamour.

But as I point in my book on the Hollywood sign, the sign didn’t always represent fame and fortune. As the city changed, so did the meaning of the sign, which, at one point, was even considered a public nuisance.

Come to … Hollywoodland?

California has long possessed the lure of material and personal fulfillment.

What started as a destination for those hoping to strike gold became, in the late 19th century, a mecca for anyone with real or imagined ailments. The state’s temperate climate and natural springs, guidebooks claimed, possessed “restorative powers for weakened dispositions.”

The state’s gold has since been drained, and the quest for perfect health has spread to rest of the country. But the erection of the famed Hollywood sign in 1923 marked the start of another phase, one still with us today.

During that decade, a real estate development group, one of whose principal backers was Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler, built a large sign – essentially a billboard – on an unnamed mountain between the Los Angeles basin and the San Fernando Valley.

“Hollywoodland,” the sign read. Its 40,000 blinking light bulbs advertised a new housing development built to accommodate the city’s surging population, which more than doubled during the 1920s to become the fifth largest in the country, as the city drew people from all over the country for its weather, open spaces and jobs.

A sweeping view of the Hollywoodland sign.
Breve Storia del Cinema

The city of Hollywood had been absorbed into Los Angeles only a decade earlier. At the time, it was a wealthy area that had grudgingly accepted the movie business. Many mansions dotted the hillsides below the sign, and utopian communities like Krotona, the U.S. headquarters of a mystical organization called the Theosophical Society, had sprung up in the foothills and on the flats.

Accordingly, early advertising for Hollywoodland emphasized the development’s exclusivity. It would offer an escape from the smog, dirt and unwelcome neighbors of downtown Los Angeles.

Saving the sign

Because the sign holds such a prominent place in the nation’s cultural imagination today, it may be surprising to learn that it wasn’t until fairly recently that it achieved its iconic status.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the sign makes an appearance in only a few of the movies that were about Hollywood or the movie industry. Other Hollywood institutions, like the Brown Derby restaurant, tended to represent the film world.

In the 1940s, Los Angeles – as both city and symbol – started to change. A dense smog settled over the metropolis, which would be featured as the grim, shadowy setting of noir films like “The Big Sleep” and “Double Indemnity.”

The sign – a little dingier, a little more unslightly – reflected the changing city. Since it was originally intended as an advertisement, few had considered its permanence or long-term significance.

The hillside where it had been built was dangerously steep; workers had cut the letters from thin sheet metal, which they tacked onto telephone poles. Heavy winds could easily rip the letters away, and by the late 1940s, there had been so much deterioration that the city of Los Angeles proposed to tear it down, calling it a dangerous public nuisance.

In this 1978 photograph, workers prepare to lower the last letter of the old Hollywood sign that had stood at the site since the 1920s.
Wally Fong/AP Photo

That dismissive view of the sign began to change in 1949, when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce told the city that it would take over its ownership and maintenance. With that exchange, the “land” suffix was dropped. We could say that this is the point that the Hollywood sign we know today was actually born.

However, improvements and maintenance occurred in fits and starts. By the early 1970s, committees were being formed to “save” the sign in order to restore it beyond shoddy paint jobs and patchwork repairs.

Finally, in 1978 a committee headed by Hugh Hefner and Alice Cooper collected the funds – about US$27,000 per letter – to not simply repair, but rebuild the sign.

Today the big white letters are a permanent fixture in the Los Angeles landscape, and it’s even withstood the attempts of adventurous vandals to emulate the art student who, in 1976, tweaked the sign to read “Hollyweed.”

The ConversationIn their own way, these vandals are trying to carve out their own slice of the Hollywood dream – a quest not for gold or for health, but for recognition and fame, whether by talent, ambition or selfie.

Today the Hollywood sign stands strong.
Reed Saxon/AP Photo

Leo Braudy, Leo S. Bing Chair in English and American Literature, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The Panama Canal’s forgotten casualties



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Panama Canal construction in 1913 showing workers drilling holes for dynamite in bedrock, as they cut through the mountains of the Isthmus. Steam shovels in the background move the rubble to railroad cars.
(Everett Historical/Shutterstock)

Caroline Lieffers, Yale University

It was the greatest infrastructure project the world had ever seen. When the 77 kilometre-long Panama Canal officially opened in 1914, after 10 years of construction, it fulfilled a vision that had tempted people for centuries, but had long seemed impossible.

“Never before has man dreamed of taking such liberties with nature,” wrote journalist Arthur Bullard in awe.

But the project, which employed more than 40,000 labourers, also took immense liberties with human life. Thousands of workers were killed. The official number is 5,609, but many historians think the real toll was several times higher. Hundreds, if not thousands, more were permanently injured.

How did the United States government, which was responsible for the project, reconcile this tremendous achievement with the staggering cost to human lives and livelihoods?

They handled it the same way governments still do today: They doled out a combination of triumphant rhetoric and just enough philanthropy to keep critics at bay.

U.S. engineering might

From the outset, the Canal project was supposed to cash in on the exceptionalism of American power and ability.

Work crew drilling through solid rock to create the Panama Canal, Panama, 1906.
(Everett Historical/Shutterstock)

The French had tried — and failed — to build a canal in the 1880s, finally giving in after years of fighting a recalcitrant landscape, ferocious disease, the deaths of some 20,000 workers and spiralling costs. But the U.S., which purchased the French company’s equipment, promised they would do it differently.

First, the U.S. government tried to broker a deal with Colombia, which controlled the land they needed for construction. When that didn’t work, the U.S. backed Panama’s separatist rebellion and quickly signed an agreement with the new country, allowing the Americans to take full control of a 16 kilometre-wide Canal Zone.

The Isthmian Canal Commission, which managed the project, started by working aggressively to discipline the landscape and its inhabitants. They drained swamps, killed mosquitoes and initiated a whole-scale sanitation project. A new police force, schools and hospitals would also bring the region to what English geographer Vaughan Cornish celebrated as “marvellous respectability.”

A path of destruction

But this was just the beginning. The world’s largest dam had to be built to control the temperamental Chagres river and furnish power for the Canal’s lock system. It would also create massive Gatún Lake, which would provide transit for more a third of the distance between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The destruction was devastating. Whole villages and forests were flooded, and a railway constructed in the 1850s had to be relocated.

The greatest challenge of all was the Culebra Cut, now known as the Gaillard Cut, an artificial valley excavated through some 13 kilometres of mountainous terrain.

More than 100 million cubic metres of dirt had to be moved; the work consumed more than eight million kilograms of dynamite in three years alone.

Imagine digging a trench more than 90 metres wide, and 10 storeys deep, over the length of something like 130 football fields. In temperatures that were often well over 30 degrees Celsius, with sometimes torrential rains. And with equipment from 1910: Dynamite, picks and coal-fired steam shovels.

Loading shot holes with dynamite to blast a slide of rock in the west bank of the Culebra Cut, February 1912.
(National Archives at St. Louis/local Identifier 185-G-154)

Expendable labour

The celebratory rhetoric masked horrifying conditions.

The Panama Canal was built by thousands of contract workers, mostly from the Caribbean. To them, the Culebra Cut was “Hell’s Gorge.”

They lived like second-class citizens, subject to a Jim Crow-like regime, with bad food, long hours and low pay. And constant danger.

In the 1980s, filmmaker Roman Foster went looking for these workers; most of the survivors were in their 90s.

Only a few copies of Fosters’s film Diggers (1984) can be found in libraries around the world today. But it contains some of the only first-hand testimony of what it was like to dig through the spiny backbone of Panama in the name of the U.S. empire.

Constantine Parkinson was one of the workers who told his story to Foster, his voice firm but his face barely able to look at the camera.

He started work on the canal at 15 years old; like many, he may have lied about his age. He was soon a brakeman, probably on a train carrying rocks to a breakwater. On July 16, 1913, a day he would never forget, he lost his right leg, and his left heel was crushed.

Parkinson explains that his grandmother went to the Canal’s chief engineer, George Goethals, to ask for some sort of assistance. As Parkinson tells it, Goethals’s response was simple: “My dear lady, Congress did not pass any law … to get compensation when [the workers] [lose limbs]. However, not to fret. Your grandson will be taken care of as soon as he [is able to work], even in a wheelchair.”

Goethals was only partly right.

At the outset, the U.S. government had essentially no legislation in place to protect the tens of thousands of foreign workers from Barbados, Jamaica, Spain and elsewhere. Administrators like Goethals were confident that the labourers’ economic desperation would prevent excessive agitation.

For the most part, their gamble worked. Though there were scandals over living conditions, injuries seem to have been accepted as a matter of course, and the administration’s charity expanded only slowly, providing the minimum necessary to get men back to work.

Placing granite in the hollow quoin. Dry Dock No. 1, Balboa, June 21, 1915.
(National Archives at St. Louis/local Identifier 185-HR-4-26J164)

Cold comfort

In 1908, after several years of construction, the Isthmian Canal Commission finally began to apply more specific compensation policies. They also contracted New York manufacturer A.A. Marks to supply artificial limbs to men injured while on duty, supposedly “irrespective of colour, nationality, or character of work engaged in.”

A. A. Marks advertising card, showing a customer holding and wearing his artificial legs, late 1800s.
U.S. National Library of Medicine/courtesy Warshaw Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

There were, however, caveats to this administrative largesse: the labourer could not be to blame for his injury, and the interpretation of “in the performance of … duty” was usually strict, excluding the many injuries incurred on the labour trains that were essential to moving employees to and from their work sites.

Despite all of these restrictions, by 1912, A.A. Marks had supplied more than 200 artificial limbs. The company had aggressively courted the Canal Commission’s business, and they were delighted with the payoff.

A.A. Marks even took out a full-page ad for their products in The New York Sun, celebrating, in strangely cheerful tones, how their limbs helped the many men who met with “accidents, premature blasts, railroad cars.” They also placed similar advertisements in medical journals.

But this compensation was still woefully inadequate, and many men fell through its deliberately wide cracks. Their stories are hard to find, but the National Archives in College Park, Md., hold a handful.

Wilfred McDonald, who was probably from Jamaica or Barbados, told his story in a letter to the Canal administrators on May 25, 1913:

I have ben Serveing the ICC [Isthmian Canal Commission] and the PRR [Panama Railroad] in the caypasoity as Train man From the yea 1906 until my misfawchin wich is 1912. Sir without eny Fear i am Speaking Nothing But the Truth to you, I have no claim comeing to me. But for mercy Sake I am Beging you To have mercy on me By Granting me a Pair of legs for I have lost both of my Natrals. I has a Mother wich is a Whido, and too motherless childrens which During The Time when i was working I was the only help to the familys.

You can still hear McDonald’s voice through his writing. He signed his letter “Truley Sobadenated Clyante,” testifying all too accurately to his position in the face of the Canal Zone’s imposing bureaucracy and unforgiving policies.

With a drop in sugar prices, much of the Caribbean was in the middle of a deep economic depression in the early 1900s, with many workers struggling even to reach subsistence; families like McDonald’s relied on remittances. But his most profound “misfortune” may have been that his injury was deemed to be his own fault.

Legally, McDonald was entitled to nothing. The Canal Commission eventually decided that he was likely to become a public charge without some sort of help, so they provided him with the limbs he requested, but they were also clear that his case was not to set a precedent.

Other men were not so lucky. Many were deported, and some ended up working on a charity farm attached to the insane asylum. A few of the old men in Foster’s film wipe away tears, almost unable to believe that they survived at all.

The ConversationTheir blood and bodies paid mightily for the dream of moving profitable goods and military might through a reluctant landscape.

The Construction of the Panama Canal [1913-1914], 1937 (Reel 1-5 of 5), Office of the Chief Signal Officer, National Archives and Records Administration.

Caroline Lieffers, PhD Candidate, Yale University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Vikings exhibit hangs up the sword, and gives us a welcome insight into domestic life



File 20180323 54887 gp6gjp.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A reconstructed Viking ship.
Caitlin Mills

Tom Clark, Victoria University

The Vikings are in Melbourne. It is hard to see anything “Vikings” without thoughts of the seafaring thugs who invaded or raided much of coastal Europe and beyond. As Viking scholar Judith Jesch has reminded us, that is essential to what the word originally meant: Norse-speaking people who got into surprisingly small ships and went in search of adventure, very often violent.

However, this is not the full story. A new exhibition at the Melbourne Museum is at pains to demonstrate this other side.




Read more:
What does the word ‘Viking’ really mean?


The television series Vikings goes out of its way to show how its characters did some pretty amazing things in their rovings – just surviving those sea voyages must rate high on the list – but mostly we know about them because they plundered far from home, to great effect. From 793 until 1066, or thereabouts, many people feared a visit from the Vikings more intensely than they feared their own rulers.

Jesch has also explained how the word broadened its meaning, even at the same time as Vikings became increasingly caricatured in poplar knowledge (think the Terry Jones movie Erik the Viking). “Vikings” can now mean all people from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Shetland and many other colonies across the North Atlantic who lived during “the Viking Age”.

The Melbourne Museum’s exhibition takes this broader sense of the word and uses it against that other, narrower one. Brought to Melbourne by the Swedish History Museum, which owns the collection, it explores the lives of the Vikings as much more holistic than just the adventures of those Norsemen who went a-viking.

The approach will disappoint some people. There are weapons on show, some of them remarkably elegant for all the ravages of time, but none are better preserved than the bent sword from a burial mound in Sweden. Archaeologists reckon it was bent precisely to render it useless for violence – to prevent its misuse in the afterlife.




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Roman gladiators were war prisoners and criminals, not sporting heroes


There are boats, both original and reconstructed. Compared to the palpably seaworthy wonders of Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum, though, the standout here is a half-ship plotted in the abstract by its rivets — the planks have all perished in the boat’s burial site, but the rivets that once fastened them have been suspended in their true positions in mid-air. It offers a haunting impression of the boat that once was.

Rivets from a Viking ship create a ‘ghost ship’.
Swedish History Museum

Still, these are not displays to get the adrenalin pumping. The interactives will not push you to imagine yourself in armour, screaming from behind a wall of shields on some stricken hillside, mead in one hand and great axe in the other.

Instead, this exhibition focuses on domestic life, economy, religion and technology. Nobody should imagine that any visiting show at a museum can do comprehensive justice to even one of those four, but this one gives us plenty of concrete evidence if we wanted to imagine Swedish and similar communities in the Viking Age.

It shows us the basics of Scandinavian clothing, for example, which is so essential for imagining the people in those countries. Its displays of jewellery remind just how fine the silver and gold smithing traditions of Germanic Europe were — for example, a filigreed pendant depicting Mjölnir (“Mealgrinder”), Thor’s hammer.

Pendant, Thor’s hammer, in gold and silver. The pendant is richly decorated with filigree ornaments and is one of a kind. Erikstorp, Ödeshög, Östergötland.
Swedish History Museum

The Mjölnir pendant is also an example of how this exhibition explores the religious and spiritual dispositions of the Vikings. The gradual progression of Christian conversion through Scandinavia and Iceland meant that some southern communities were converted long before the recognised Viking Age began. Others in the north held to their faith in the Aesir (one of two tribes of Norse gods) until well into the 12th century.

What we miss in that story of incremental northwards progression, though, is how varied and often contradictory the local beliefs were. There may have been as many different schools of Aesir worship as there were settlements across the Norse-speaking lands. Certainly, during the period of Christian conversion, many people practised a dual worship — keeping the old gods alive, even though the new God forbade it.

There is a wealth of riches in the exhibition, as you might expect, which could be chaos if it lacked a strong logic of curation. Importantly, then, elements of the curation speak with great depth. The collectors have clear points to make, and they use the exhibits to make them.

A case in point is the questioning, rather than definitive, discussion of hair combs. Archaeologists have curiously found such apparently mundane items in most of the Scandinavian burial sites. Were they for carrying into the next world, for a final grooming of the dead person before burial, or something else entirely? If we cannot understand those combs, how can we understand the worlds they joined?

This emphasis on the social and everyday is quite different from many other Viking exhibitions – in English-speaking countries at least – which have tended to focus on the martial vigour of those people who repeatedly invaded “us”. A recent example was the British Museum’s 2014 exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend, which cast them as fighting fanatics for their religion, a medieval precursor of Daesh or ISIS.

Here, the curators are trying first and foremost to redirect our attentions. War was only a part of the Viking life, and only for a segment of Viking society at that. Anyone who wears a horned helmet to see this exhibition may feel an urge to take it off.


The ConversationVikings: Beyond the Legend is showing at the Melbourne Museum until August 26 2018.

Tom Clark, Associate Professor, First Year College, Victoria University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Australia’s history of live exports is more than two centuries old



File 20180410 75767 1u99jz6.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A sheep undergoing live export in 2017.
Animals Australia

Nancy Cushing, University of Newcastle

A recent episode of 60 Minutes has captured public attention and the political agenda by airing dramatic video footage from Animals Australia, showing the fate of Australian animals in the live export trade.

Video shot secretly by a crew member shows sheep on five separate voyages from Fremantle to the Middle East last year. They are buffeted by the movement of the ship, strain to breathe in the hot, noisy and acrid atmosphere between decks and trample the dead and dying under their hooves.

But while these glimpses inside a transport ship are new, the practice of live animal export is as old as the European colonisation of Australia.




Read more:
Can live animal export ever be humane?


Animals of the new colony

The first arrival of animals that would later be exported from Australia, including sheep, cattle and goats, can be dated with unusual precision to January 1788.

Like the convict workforce who made up the bulk of the human cargo on the First Fleet, the livestock, purchased mainly at the Cape of Good Hope, were considered necessary to transplant a British society and economy in Antipodean soil. Live animal import from other colonies, like India and Batavia, and from Europe continued throughout the first century of colonisation.

Hoists were used to load and unload live animals in ports without purpose-built ramps. This photograph demonstrates the practice in India in 1895.
Source: William Henry Jackson, World’s Transportation Commission photograph collection. Library of Congress

Breeds that suited the climate and their roles in the colony, especially those that helped displace native plants and animals and Indigenous peoples, were sought after and carefully nurtured.

Gradually the inward flow of animals reversed. Flocks and herds increased to the point where some could be sold on to other destinations. Initially, this was to the other colonies Britain was establishing in the region, such as Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), Western Australia, New Zealand and South Australia. These animals were primarily traded to establish new populations at their destinations.

Animals from New South Wales were also sent to the French colony of New Caledonia, and in small numbers farther afield to Russia, Japan and India. As numbers rose, larger-scale live export for consumption became established.

A hidden process

As in the present, this trade had distinct phases, some more visible than others. The process began where the animals were raised, generally on lightly stocked rangelands in the interior. They were driven on foot or loaded onto rail carriages to be taken to ports, where they waited in open yards to be loaded onto ships.

Thus far, the animals were moving through public spaces, where their treatment and conditions could be seen and in some cases recorded. Members of the public could register their concerns and seek to have mistreatment addressed. And even in a period when animal welfare was still an emerging concept, some did.

Railcars laden with frightened stock led to complaints about overcrowding and lack of access to food and water. One observer labelled such treatment “as gross a case of cruelty as it is possible to conceive”.

However, once the animals were hoisted or walked onto ships, they became invisible. No outsider could see them. Only those involved with the voyage knew how densely they were packed, how secure their pens were, whether their dung was cleared away, or how much food and water they received over journeys that could last for weeks. In the case of sheep, the advice was to pack them like wool bales, so tightly pressed together that they prevented one another from falling over.

In many cases, the animals were barely seen at all, except by one another, being left to their own devices on short voyages. During longer trips they would be tended to minimally, because of the toxic environment created below deck by what were termed their “exhalations of carbonic gases”.

Even the evidence of how many died on the voyages was hidden. Their bodies were thrown overboard before reaching port and few records were kept.

Animals carried on open decks could be seen while at the docks and had access to better-quality air, but were more vulnerable to high seas and inclement weather.

Animals carried on open decks could be seen while at the docks and had access to better-quality air, but were also vulnerable to high seas and inclement weather. Sheep in pens on a ship’s deck, Sydney Harbour, circa 1929.
Sam Hood photograph, State Library of New South Wales, Home and Away, 4066.

At the other end of the journey, the exported animals came back into view. This was often when the most useful accounts were recorded. Complaints about their poor condition, reduced numbers or the loss of entire shipments of animals were considered worthy of writing about in local newspapers by those who had eagerly awaited their arrival. It is at the receiving end of the export process that accusations of flimsy pens, overcrowding or the loading of animals that were not fit for the voyage can be found.

Taking this longer view of the Australian live export trade shows just how extraordinary the opportunity to see what happens during live export is. Animals Australia has noted that “Australia’s live sheep trade has operated for over five decades with only those financially invested in the trade having visual access to the conditions and welfare implications for the sheep on-board”.




Read more:
Assessing Australia’s regulation of live animal exports


This has been an issue for much longer than 50 years, but it’s now possible for outsiders – including farmers, politicians and members of the public – to see the appalling conditions of the live export trade for themselves.


The ConversationThis article is based on a blog post originally published by White Horse Press.

Nancy Cushing, Associate professor, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Ancient stone tools found on Sulawesi, but who made them remains a mystery



File 20180226 140178 1q7bjnf.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Limestone ‘tower’ karst region of Maros in the south of Sulawesi, where Leang Burung 2 is located.
D.P. McGahan , Author provided

Adam Brumm, Griffith University

Another collection of stone tools dating back more than 50,000 years has been unearthed on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Details of the find, at a rock-shelter known as Leang Burung 2, are described in our paper out today in PLOS ONE.

But we uncovered no human fossils, so the identity of these tool-makers remains a mystery.

In 2016 we reported the discovery of similar findings dating to 200,000 years ago on Sulawesi, and we also have no idea who made them.

The earliest Sulawesi tools are so old that they could belong to one of several human species. Candidates include Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis, the dwarf-like “Hobbits” of Flores.




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Alternatively, they might have been Denisovans, distant cousins of Neanderthals who met early Aboriginal people in Southeast Asia, leaving a genetic legacy in their descendants.

They may even have been Homo sapiens that had ventured out of Africa long before the main exodus of our species.

Or they could be a totally unknown species.

Where did they go?

Not only do we not know who the first inhabitants of Sulawesi were, we have no idea what happened to them.

By 40,000 years ago people were creating rock art on Sulawesi. Given the sophistication of these artworks, their makers were surely Homo sapiens with modern minds like ours.

If the first islanders were a now-extinct group, did they linger long enough to encounter modern cultures?

Sulawesi also holds great promise for understanding the initial peopling of our land.

This large island on the route to Australia might have been the launch pad to these shores up to 65,000 years ago. It could even be where the First Australians met Denisovans.

How our region looked during the Ice Age. Lower sea levels bridged the ocean barrier now separating Australia from New Guinea and joined up numerous islands in Southeast Asia to each other and to the adjacent mainland, with the exception of islands in Wallacea, which have always remained separate. The arrows show how the ancestors of Aboriginal people may have got to Australia up to 65,000 years ago.
Adam Brumm, Author provided

Resolving this mystery is not easy on a huge landmass like Sulawesi. Where do you begin to look? Which brings us to Leang Burung 2.

The original dig

Leang Burung 2 is a limestone rock-shelter in the island’s south. It was first excavated in 1975 by archaeologist Ian Glover.

Sulawesi, showing the location of Leang Burung 2 rock-shelter.
ESRI (right map), Author provided

Glover dug to a depth of 3.6m, uncovering “Ice Age” artefacts dating back 30,000 years. He also found, at the bottom of his trench, a layer of yellow clay containing simpler stone tools and fossils of large mammals (megafauna) that were rare to absent in overlying (that is, younger) “Ice Age” levels.

But before Glover could explore these hallmarks of earlier habitation he had to shut down the dig – large rocks in the trench had made further progress untenable.

Decades later, the late Mike Morwood, of “Hobbit” fame, resolved to extend Glover’s trench to bedrock. He had a hunch that below the undated clay might be evidence that archaic humans existed on Sulawesi until relatively recent times. In fact, Mike thought the ancestors of the “Hobbits” might have come from this island to the north of Flores.

In 2007 Mike’s team (led by Makassan archaeologist Irfan Mahmud) deepened the trench to 4.5m, but the dig was once again halted by rocks.

A new dig and deeper

Later, at Mike’s invitation, and with colleagues from Indonesia’s National Research Centre for Archaeology (ARKENAS), I reopened the trenches in an effort to finally get to the bottom of things.

Indonesian archaeologists at work in Leang Burung 2.
Adam Brumm, Author provided

Over three seasons (2011-13) we excavated to a depth of 6.2m – deeper than ever before. It was a trying dig, requiring the use of heavy-duty shoring to support the unstable walls and specialist drilling equipment to remove huge rocks that had hindered prior work at this site.

Instead of reaching bedrock, we hit groundwater. With water seeping in, our dig was done.

Deep-trench excavation at Leang Burung 2 in 2012.
Adam Brumm, Author provided

Nevertheless, we can confirm that beneath an upper disturbed zone there is indeed evidence of an early human presence, having exposed a rich cultural horizon in a brown clay deep below Glover’s yellow clay.

Among the findings are large, rudimentary stone tools and megafauna fossils. We also turned up a fossil from an extinct elephant, the first known from the site.

Fossil tooth fragment from an extinct elephant, excavated from Leang Burung 2.
M W Moore, Author provided

Dating the new find

We are fortunate to have dating methods that were unavailable in Glover’s day, but the age of the lowermost layers has still proved tricky to nail down.

Our best efforts suggest that the top of Glover’s clay is over 35,000 years old, while the brown clay is about 50,000 years old – and we still have not bottomed out.

The early inhabitants used tools like those made 200,000 years ago on Sulawesi, so the deepest artefacts may be connected to the island’s oldest tool-making culture.

Stone artefacts from the deep deposits at Leang Burung 2, dated to at least 50,000 years ago.
M W Moore, Author provided

These cave dwellers could still have been around when the first rock art appears 40,000 years ago, but owing to dating uncertainties and the erosion of a large amount of sediment from Leang Burung 2, we can’t be sure.




Read more:
Ice age art and ‘jewellery’ found in an Indonesian cave reveal an ancient symbolic culture


Leang Burung 2 rock-shelter.
Adam Brumm, Author provided

A new hope

Digging deeper at Leang Burung 2 is possible but it will require serious effort, including artificially lowering the water table. But while research at this shelter has been challenging, it has led us to another site with better prospects.

Our excavations at nearby Leang Bulu Bettue have unearthed rare “Ice Age” ornaments up to 30,000 years old, and we have now reached deeper and older levels.

The ConversationFurther work at this cave may yield vital clues about the original inhabitants of Sulawesi, including, we hope, the first fossil remains of these enigmatic people.

Adam Brumm, ARC Future Fellow, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Friday essay: the story of Fook Shing, colonial Victoria’s Chinese detective


File 20180327 188601 ck5u2d.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A depiction of Fook Shing in Melbourne Illustrated, November 13 1880.
State Library of Victoria

Benjamin Wilson Mountford, La Trobe University

On July 25 1882, Inspector Frederick Secretan, the head of Victoria Police’s Detective Branch, shifted uncomfortably in his seat. In the wake of the Kelly Gang fiasco, during which Ned’s infamous band of outlaws had managed to elude the police until the bloody shootout at Glenrowan, a royal commission had been called to inquire into Victoria’s police force. Secretan’s detectives had been singled out for particular criticism. Now, as he fronted the commissioners, the inspector sought to explain the methods he deployed for detecting crime in Melbourne and across Victoria.

The anxiety and sense of impending chaos that accompanied the 1850s gold rushes had led to the early adoption of plain-clothes policing in colonial Victoria. Unlike in Britain, where detectives were discouraged from wearing plain clothes and liaising with criminals, Melbourne’s gumshoes were to move across the colony, detecting crime and weeding out offenders. Lacking scientific modes of inquiry, they relied on their ability to conduct surveillance and to establish relations with informants, or “fizgigs”.

By the 1880s there were 28 detectives in the colony. Seven were based in country districts, one serviced the post office, four were clerks and 16 were deployed on outdoor duty across Melbourne. The metropolitan force, Secretan explained, divided the city into spheres of influence, with the numbers of detectives apportioned accordingly. Ideally, Secretan suggested to the commissioners, 38 detectives would be deployed across Victoria, “including one Chinese”.

Secretan’s Chinese detective, and one of the men who had been briefly involved in the hunt for the Kelly Gang, was Detective Fook Shing.

Like tens of thousands of his countrymen, Fook Shing had journeyed from China to Australia during the gold rushes of the 1850s. Leaving troubled Guangdong, via the British ports of Hong Kong and Singapore, he appears to have arrived at South Australia (probably to avoid the poll tax implemented to deter Chinese arrivals at Melbourne) and to have walked overland to the goldfields.

On the Bendigo diggings, Fook Shing served the colonial government as a local “headman” (a “Chief of the Chinese” as he put it) and took a leading role in community life – being active in Chinese societies, running a successful theatre and brickworks. Wealthy, connected and well represented in court, he kept a pistol under his pillow for when extra-legal methods were required to protect his followers.

For the (heavily Irish) Victorian police force, who relied on interpreters of mixed quality, were befuddled by Chinese names and struggled to identify Chinese criminals, men like Fook Shing proved invaluable on the goldfields. During the 1860s, as the Chinese in Victoria increasingly left the gold country and congregated in Melbourne, particularly around the city’s growing Chinatown in Little Bourke Street, Fook Shing was formally appointed to the Victoria Police.

Arrival of Chinese Immigrants in Little Bourke Street, Frederick Grosse 1828-1894, engraver. Melbourne: Ebenezer and David Syme, 1866.
State Library of Victoria

For the next 20 years, Fook Shing served as Melbourne’s Chinese detective.
From his home, just off Little Bourke Street, he policed the Chinese community and visitors to the area. Among his colleagues he was regarded as a “trustworthy member of the service” who could “always be relied upon” and impressed with his “intimate knowledge of the Chinese criminal class” in Melbourne.

This support was mirrored up the chain of command. Superior officers paid tribute to his performance in the line of duty and awarded a number of gratuities in acknowledgement of service.

But the work of the Chinese detective was hardly confined to Melbourne. Fook Shing could regularly be found on assignment in country Victoria. There he was given “every facility” by local authorities, who (in the words of one goldfields constable) found him “in a position to give all necessary information and point out any further steps” for tracing Chinese criminals.

Word of his arrival in country towns spread quickly among local Chinese criminals and suspects. In 1875, for instance, the Chinese detective asked the murder suspect An Gaa: “You know Fook Shing?” The accused replied that he did, having been warned of the detective’s impending arrival by his fellow Chinese prisoners in Castlemaine Jail.

‘A civilised specimen’

At much the same time, Fook Shing served as guide for colonial and foreign observers seeking to understand the Chinese and their coming to Australia. “We need no magic horse or flying carpet to take us into China,” the great colonial author and journalist Marcus Clarke reflected in 1868.

All we do is turn down Little Bourke-street and our friend F – S –, once a Mandarin, now a distinguished member of the detective force, will point out to us the ‘manners and customs’ of his countrymen.

A decade later, in a two-part feature entitled “Melbourne Illustrated”, the London Graphic illustrated newspaper surveyed all the usual marks of colonial progress: the port, the commercial exchange, the university, the public library and gardens, and (of course) the racecourse.

Finally came a reflection on the “Anti-Chinese Movement” and a visit to Chinatown. “The Chinese question is the topic of the day”, the author informed his metropolitan audience, reflecting on the strong racial anxiety that the presence of the Chinese in Australia had evoked since the gold rushes, “and it may interest you as well as the Australians … We had as our guide Fook Shing, the Chinese detective, whose portrait I have taken as being a civilised specimen of a Chinaman.”

Melbourne Illustrated – In the Chinese Quarter, Graphic, November 13 1880. 1. Fan Tan Table. 2. Head of a Fan Tan Player. 3. Fook Shing, Detective. 4. Entrance to a Chinese Eating House.
State Library of Victoria

But just as he was etched into contemporary impressions of colonial Victoria, Fook Shing also confronted anti-Chinese racism and discrimination. Despite his impressive record over 20 years, and in contrast to a number of less accomplished white colleagues, the Chinese detective was never promoted above his entry rank of detective third class.

Opium and information

At times he endured poor relations with both uniformed policemen and fellow detectives. Colonial newspapers, meanwhile, regularly critiqued his gambling and his opium smoking, reporting his appearance in the gambling houses and opium dens that grew up along Little Bourke Street to service the community. “The Chinese Detective”, The Age declared in January 1873, while complaining about the lenient sentences being handled out to illegal Chinese gamblers, is “himself an inveterate gambler”.

Interior of a Chinese gambling house, 1871. Wood engraving published in the Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers.
State Library of Victoria

While they disliked the sensational media attention, Fook Shing’s superiors were rather less concerned by these apparent moral failings. In fact, they quietly accepted them as essential to policing the Chinese – and helped to pick up the tab. After interrogating An Gaa, for instance, Fook Shing submitted a receipt for funds “spent obtaining information”.

“The amount charged,” Secretan noted when organising Fook Shing’s reimbursement, “is principally for opium supplied to the Chinese … I know opium is necessary to obtain anything from the Chinese at all.”

On occasion, Fook Shing appears to have carried his investigations beyond Victoria. In October 1875 the Chinese detective travelled to Sydney in pursuit of Ah Hon for “larceny of opium” and successfully ensured the offender was committed for trial.

While it was quietly approved by the Victoria Police’s top brass, Fook Shing’s drug use eventually took a heavy personal toll. By the 1880s, his health declining, he was utilised as an interpreter, before eventually being retired unfit for further service in 1886. A decade later, having anglicised his name, Henry Fook Shing was laid to rest in Melbourne Cemetery.

In recent decades, the importance of Australia’s commercial relationship with China and increasing migration from China to Australia have helped to spark renewed interest in the historical links between the two countries. As stories like Fook Shing’s remind us, colonial Australia was not simply an outpost of Britain, it was also a society intricately connected to China.

Towards the end of the 1850s, perhaps as many as one in five men in the colony of Victoria was Chinese; by the end of the 19th century Melbourne’s Chinatown was among the most well-known in the world.

As he trawled the streets of Marvellous Melbourne and traipsed across the countryside on behalf of the Victoria Police, Fook Shing played a vital role in mediating between the colonial state, white settlers and the first generations of Chinese migrants to arrive in large numbers and to make their homes in Australia.


The ConversationBen Mountford will give a talk on Fook Shing at Kyneton Museum on May 12 at 2pm.

Benjamin Wilson Mountford, David Myers Research Fellow in History, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Fifteen years after looting, thousands of artefacts are still missing from Iraq’s national museum


Craig Barker, University of Sydney

On April 10 2003, the first looters broke into the National Museum of Iraq. Staff had vacated two days earlier, ahead of the advance of US forces on Baghdad. The museum was effectively ransacked for the next 36 hours until employees returned.

The National Museum of Iraq in the wake of looting in 2003.
Jamal Saidi

While the staff – showing enormous bravery and foresight – had removed and safely stored 8,366 artefacts before the looting, some 15,000 objects were taken during that 36 hours. While 7,000 items have been recovered, more than 8,000 remain unaccounted for, including artefacts thousands of years old from some of the earliest sites in the Middle East.

The looting is regarded as one of the worst acts of cultural vandalism in modern times, but much more of Iraq’s rich cultural history has been destroyed, damaged or stolen in the years since. Indeed the illegal trade in looted antiquities is growing.

Gold and lapis bowl from Ur, Iraq Museum IM8272. Current statue is unknown.
Oriental Institute Lost Treasures from Iraq database

One of the museum objects that remains lost is a black stone weight shaped like a duck made around 2070 BC and excavated from the ancient city of Ur. Another is a fluted gold and lapis bowl from a royal cemetery in the same city.

The museum’s collection of cylinder seals (used to print images, usually into clay) was hit especially hard as they were easy to conceal and transport and had a ready market overseas. Of the 5144 taken, just over half have been returned. The museum reopened in 2014, somewhat a shadow of its former self.

Duck-shaped weight from Ur, Iraq Museum IM3580. Current status unknown.
Oriental Institute Lost Treasures from Iraq database

Some high value items looted from the museum were so recognisable that they could not possibly appear on the open market, suggesting they were taken with buyers already lined up. In contrast to this was the opportunistic looting undertaken by locals: in some galleries copies were stolen but genuine pieces ignored.

Global outrage at the looting did lead to immediate action. One of the most successful programs was an amnesty granted by authorities that saw almost 2,000 items returned by January 2004, and a further thousand items seized by Iraqi and US investigators.

Iraqi Col. Ali Sabah, displays ancient artefacts Iraqi Security Forces discovered in 2008, during two raids in northern Basra.
Wikimedia commons

Initial returns were largely local. One early success was the famous Lady of Warka, dated to around 3100 BC; she was recovered by investigators at a nearby farm following a tip off.

Others have come home following international investigations (a large number of objects seem to have travelled through London and New York in the aftermath), such as a statue of Assyrian king Argon II seized in New York in 2008 and returned to the museum in 2015.

Likewise the heaviest item stolen, a headless statue of the Sumerian king Entemena of Lagash was recovered in New York in 2006 with the help of an art dealer. Interpol and the University of Chicago have fastidiously maintained databases for objects looted from museum.

Demand increasing

While destruction and looting of cultural heritage has been a by-product of war for thousands of years, the scale of the looting of the Iraq Museum was staggering. Particularly frustrating were the neglected warnings that such an incident could happen, and the immediate response from the Bush administration that “stuff happens”.

The museum looting should have been a clarion call for the need for better protection of antiquities in conflict zones, both from combatants and local populations. Sadly, this has not been the case. There has been subsequent destruction of archaeological sites and museums in Syria and Libya, ISIS selling antiquities to finance weapons, and increases in thefts from both private and public collections and from archaeological sites.

Part of the problem with halting the illegal global trade of stolen antiquities is the scale of the market. In late 2017, an investigation by the Wall Street Journal presented the sobering assessment that over 100,000 antiquities are offered for sale online daily, of which up to 80% are likely to be faked or looted.

National Museum of Iraq in 2018.
MohammadHuzam/Wikimedia commons

The industry is estimated by Neil Brodie of the University of Oxford to have a turnover of US$10 million a day. Today’s antiquities black market is using social media platforms and messenger apps to reach buyers in a way that would have been inconceivable to looters in 2003. There has been a surge in antiquities originating in Syria available online since the outbreak of the civil war.

In order to halt looting, it is essential that private collectors and institutions only purchase antiquities with a legal provenance to dry up the demand.

Ironically, centuries after many of the remains of these ancient cultural entities were looted by European colonial forces in order to fill grand national museums, we are seeing a 21st century version of cultural colonialism. Private collectors are enabling an entire economy of illegal activities.

The ConversationThe loss of these sites and artefacts is disastrous for humanity. The Baghdad looting has shown that in times of conflict, not even a museum can necessarily provide a sanctuary, without meaningful policies of protection. Sadly, it appears we have not learnt the lessons of April 2003.

Craig Barker, Education Manager, Sydney University Museums, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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