Friday, November 14, 2008

The Chicken or the Egg? Which Came First?

So the age old question all kids have been asked growing up.....Which came first the chicken or the egg? The answer is slightly complicated but we do know this: That the egg came before the chicken. Not necessarily the chicken egg, but definitely the egg. Interpreted literally, the answer to the riddle is clear. Dinosaurs were forming birdlike nests and laying eggs long before birds (including chickens) ever evolved.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Great Dallas Flood of 1908

Like Chicago or San Francisco, Dallas was remade by disaster. The Great Flood of May 26, 1908 was the town's largest natural catastrophe. It was not nearly as deadly as San Francisco's earthquake or as destructive as Chicago's fire and is far less known than either, but it had much the same effect on the city's history. The flood served to end arguments that had been stirring for a decade over how to turn a sprawling boomtown into a modern metropolis. The result was the so-called Kessler Plan.

"It was the beginning of when people started looking at the city as a real object rather than a collection of individuals trying to make a living," Dr. Robert Fairbanks, professor of history at the University of Texas at Arlington, said of the Kessler Plan. "For the first time, Dallas became more than about just attracting jobs or attracting industry. People thought about the city as a whole."

The ideas of George Kessler form a major part of Dallas to this day. The Trinity River levee system built decades later opened up sections of the upriver floodplain for commercial use, resulting in the Stemmons Corridor, one of the region's principal economic engines. His proposal for a "great thoroughfare" became what is now Central Expressway, which in turn spurred growth in towns almost as close to the Red River as to the Trinity.

Other ideas, though less sweeping, are part of the city's identity, Union Station, Ferris Plaza, White Rock Lake Park, Turtle Creek Boulevard and, if we all live long enough, the Trinity River Corridor Project. In 1908, however, the flood's most immediate effect was to dampen local celebrations of the first nationwide commemoration of Mother's Day.

That Sunday morning, May 24, dawned rainy. Over the course of the day, 15 inches fell on the city, according to After the Deluge, the Impact of the Trinity River Flood of 1908, by Dallas writer Jackie McElhaney. Such a torrent would have overwhelmed the Trinity's channel in any case, but the downpour came at the worst possible time. For three previous days, counties upriver had sustained cloudbursts, and the watershed around Dallas was still sodden from a major flood a month earlier.

On May 26, the river crested at 52.6 feet, a record that still stands. Only a handful of people were killed (accounts vary, but historian Darwin Payne, author of Big D, settles on five). Four thousand people were left homeless, and property damage was estimated at $2.5 million, about $55 million today. But its most lasting effect was to demonstrate how poorly the city had been built.

The waterworks and electric plants were in areas that proved to be vulnerable to flooding, leaving the city without basic utilities. Telephone and telegraph lines went down. Rail lines were washed out. Every bridge near downtown was swept away, isolating the business district from the newly annexed neighborhood of Oak Cliff.

"Dallas wasn't prepared because no one in Dallas thought to be prepared," Ms. McElhaney said. "The growth of the city had been very haphazard. It just grew wherever it grew."

One aspect of the flood's timing was fortunate, it occurred during the Progressive Era, when local leaders across the country were rethinking how their cities were governed and structured. A beautification movement was trying to soften the raw industrial look of the 19th century. In Dallas, a group of city leaders led by Dallas Morning News publisher George Bannerman Dealey had four years before hired Mr. Kessler, one of the nation's leading planners, to design Fair Park. In 1910, on the second anniversary of the flood, he was hired again, this time to bring order to the entire city.

The German-born Kessler had lived in Dallas as a boy, but studied landscape design in Europe. In 1904, the same year he designed Fair Park, he was appointed landscape architect for the St. Louis World's Fair, according to Dr. Fairbanks' book For the City as a Whole: Planning, Politics and the Public Interest in Dallas, Texas. City leaders were punching above their weight. Most municipal planning was in much larger metropolitan areas such as New York, Dr. Fairbanks said. Dallas in 1910 had a population of 92,000.

"Dallas desperately wanted to be seen as a progressive city. Planning was very much the in thing of that day, and planning was almost a booster thing," she said. "Dallas got a lot of favorable publicity nationally out of the Kessler Plan."

Published in 1912 and refined over the years, the Kessler Plan called for rechanneling the Trinity a mile from downtown and building a levee system to contain future floods. But it went much further than solving flood problems. It sought to consolidate a rail system that was choking downtown and advocated straightening and standardizing the city's often chaotic streets. The plan also recommended a system of parks, boulevards and playgrounds.

To Mr. Kessler's frustration, much of his plan was incompletely executed or never implemented at all. His plan to turn Dallas into an inland port came to nothing, although it was still actively discussed as late as the 1970s. His vision of a "great thoroughfare" linking what was then known as the Highland Park Addition to the city's southern precincts was only partly realized.

The northern part was built and eventually became Central Expressway. But a land dispute with the railroad companies blocked construction to the south. Decades later, the street that he intended to knit the city together carried commuters ever farther from the city's southern neighborhoods. Not all results were so divisive. Even before floodwaters receded, and independent of the Kessler Plan, business leaders proposed a flood-proof "Great Causeway" linking downtown and Oak Cliff.

The bridge was built in only 17 months, in part because the Great Flood of 1908 preceded a long dry spell. Not a single day of construction was lost because of rain, according to Ms. McElhaney's article in Legacies magazine. At 5,480 feet, what is now known as the Houston Street Viaduct was the longest concrete structure in the world. The bridge guaranteed that flooding would never again disrupt commerce between the two sides of the river. It also had the effect of binding the older neighborhoods of Dallas with the formerly independent city of Oak Cliff, which had been annexed less than five years before the flood.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mars Mission in Trouble?

Will NASA's flagship mission to Mars fly next year? The space agency could decide as early as Friday whether to cancel, delay or proceed with plans to launch a nuclear-powered, SUV-size rover to the red planet. NASA has already sunk $1.5 billion into the Mars Science Laboratory, which is pricier than expected. The megarover will roam the surface and drill into rocks for clues to whether the planet ever possessed an environment capable of supporting primitive life.

Doug McCuistion, who heads the Mars exploration program at NASA headquarters, told scientists in recent public meetings that he expects the mission's total cost to run over by more than 30 percent. If it goes over that threshold, Congress would have the right to intervene and use its power to end the project on its own.

Managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, the project has been plagued by development problems and ballooning costs that caught headquarters' attention. McCuistion told a gathering of Mars scientists last month that NASA was keeping a close eye on the project's progress and costs and participating in weekly reviews with JPL.

From the outset, the Mars Science Lab proved to be an engineering challenge due to its size and capability. The 9-foot-long robot geologist is bigger and can drive farther than its twin predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity, which are still alive after four years. It also carries some of the most sophisticated instruments, including a laser that can zap rocks from afar. The mission's financial woes took many in the science community by surprise who fear that other projects will suffer to pay for the mega-rover.

"The magnitude of the increases has been mind-boggling," said geologist John Mustard of Brown University. "It has sent a shock wave to the Mars program and beyond to the planetary community."

If NASA pushes to launch in 2009 as planned, it will have to find the money to get the rover ready. Any delay until 2010 or 2011 will add at least $300 million to the mission's price tag. Alex Dery Snider, a spokeswoman for the House Science Committee, said members were concerned about the extra cost and want to know how NASA will solve the problem. Some scientists outside the Mars research community said canceling the project does not make sense since so much money has already been invested.

"We've got to continue our exploration of Mars, but in a way that's rational and sensible," said Frances Bagenal of the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ancient Lost Capital of Khazars Found?

A Russian archaeologist says he has found the lost capital of the Khazars, a powerful nation that adopted Judaism as its official religion more than 1,000 years ago, only to disappear leaving little trace of its culture. Dmitry Vasilyev, a professor at Astrakhan State University, said his 9 year excavation near the Caspian Sea has finally unearthed the foundations of a triangular fortress of flamed brick, along with modest yurt-shaped dwellings, and he believes these are part of what was once Itil, the Khazar capital. By law Khazars could use flamed bricks only in the capital, Vasilyev said. The general location of the city on the Silk Road was confirmed in medieval chronicles by Arab, Jewish and European authors.

"The discovery of the capital of Eastern Europe's first feudal state is of great significance," he told The Associated Press. "We should view it as part of Russian history."

Kevin Brook, the American author of "The Jews of Khazaria," e-mailed Wednesday that he has followed the Itil dig over the years, and even though it has yielded no Jewish artifacts, "Now I'm as confident as the archaeological team is that they've truly found the lost city, The Khazars were a Turkic tribe that roamed the steppes from Northern China to the Black Sea. Between the 7th and 10th centuries they conquered huge swaths of what is now southern Russia and Ukraine, the Caucasus Mountains and Central Asia as far as the Aral Sea.

Itil, about 800 miles south of Moscow, had a population of up to 60,000 and occupied 0.8 square miles of marshy plains southwest of the Russian Caspian Sea port of Astrakhan, Vasilyev said. It lay at a major junction of the Silk Road, the trade route between Europe and China , which "helped Khazars amass giant profits," he said.

The Khazar empire was once a regional superpower, and Vasilyev said his team has found "luxurious collections" of well-preserved ceramics that help identify cultural ties of the Khazar state with Europe, the Byzantine Empire and even Northern Africa. They also found armor, wooden kitchenware, glass lamps and cups, jewelry and vessels for transporting precious balms dating back to the eighth and ninth centuries, he said. But a scholar in Israel, while calling the excavations interesting, said the challenge was to find Khazar inscriptions.

"If they found a few buildings, or remains of buildings, that's interesting but does not make a big difference," said Dr. Simon Kraiz, an expert on Eastern European Jewry at Haifa University. "If they found Khazar writings, that would be very important."

Vasilyev says no Jewish artifacts have been found at the site, and in general, most of what is known about the Khazars comes from chroniclers from other, sometimes competing cultures and empires.

"We know a lot about them, and yet we know almost nothing: Jews wrote about them, and so did Russians, Georgians, and Armenians, to name a few," said Kraiz. "But from the Khazars themselves we have nearly nothing."

The Khazars' ruling dynasty and nobility converted to Judaism sometime in the 8th or 9th centuries. Vasilyev said the limited number of Jewish religious artifacts such as mezuzas and Stars of David found at other Khazar sites prove that ordinary Khazars preferred traditional beliefs such as shamanism, or newly introduced religions including Islam. Yevgeny Satanovsky, director of the Middle Eastern Institute in Moscow, said he believes the Khazar elite chose Judaism out of political expediency — to remain independent of neighboring Muslim and Christian states. "They embraced Judaism because they wanted to remain neutral, like Switzerland these days," he said.

In particular, the Khazars opposed the Arab advance into the Caucasus Mountains and were instrumental in containing a Muslim push toward eastern Europe. He compared their role in eastern Europe to that of the French knights who defeated Arab forces at the Battle of Tours in France in 732. The Khazars succeeded in holding off the Arabs, but a young, expanding Russian state vanquished the Khazar empire in the late 10th century. Medieval Russian epic poems mention Russian warriors fighting the "Jewish Giant."

"In many ways, Russia is a successor of the Khazar state," Vasilyev said.

He said his dig revealed traces of a large fire that was probably caused by the Russian conquest. He said Itil was rebuilt following the fall of the Khazar empire, when ethnic Khazars were slowly assimilated by Turkic-speaking tribes, Tatars and Mongols, who inhabited the city until it was flooded by the rising Caspian Sea around the 14th century. The study of the Khazar empire was discouraged in the Soviet Union. The dictator Josef Stalin, in particular, detested the idea that a Jewish empire had come before Russia's own. He ordered references to Khazar history removed from textbooks because they "disproved his theory of Russian statehood," Satanovsky said. Only now are Russian scholars free to explore Khazar culture. The Itil excavations have been sponsored by the Russian-Jewish Congress, a nonprofit organization that supports cultural projects in Russia.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

William Shakespeare's "The Theatre" Uncovered in London

The theater where "The Merchant of Venice" and "Romeo and Juliet" likely debuted and where William Shakespeare himself may have trodden the boards has likely been discovered in east London, archaeologists at the Museum of London said Wednesday. The possible foundations of what is known as simply, The Theatre, were unearthed by builders excavating the site, a vacant garage, for another structure. Museum archaeologists were called to the location to make sure nothing was destroyed, and had a eureka moment.

"We were there, scratching our heads, looking into the trenches, thinking, 'this could be it,'" said Jo Lyon, a senior archaeologist at the museum. "So we did some more research, and then we found the angled walls. And we all went, 'Oh my gosh, this should be it.' "

Other theaters of similar vintage also have angled walls, so the discovery was significant. Archaeologists had known for a long time there was a high probability for The Theatre to be on this particular site. But there are no maps that show its location, no images to show what it might have looked like, and only a vague description of it.

"It's in the right place, it's at the right angle to be a polygonal shape," Lyon said. "It's a pretty high possibility."

The possible discovery of The Theatre, built in 1576 and where Shakespeare's troupe performed in the 1590s, could complete the set of open-air theaters where the Bard's plays were staged. The Rose theater's location was discovered in 1989 in Bankside, just south of the River Thames in central London, and the Globe theater is nearby. A replica of the Globe was built on a site close to the original and opened in 1997.

Shakespeare's company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, only moved into The Theatre in the 1590s. Until then, they had been performing at the Rose, but a shake up in the London theater scene necessitated the move, said Martin Wiggins, a fellow at the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham.

And in 1597, a dispute with the landlord forced the company to move again, Wiggins said. The company didn't own the ground The Theatre was built on, but Lord Chamberlain's Men did own the material it was built with, so they simply dismantled the entire theater and moved it south across the River Thames, where it was rebuilt and renamed the Globe. But The Theatre's foundations remained in east London, and that's what archaeologists believe they have found.

"The first thing I want to know about it is what the foundations can tell us about the architecture," Wiggins said. "How big was it? How does it compare with the Rose? How does it compare with the Globe? How similar are they?"

Wiggins said an understanding of what the theater looked like could help Shakespearean scholars understand more about this period in the playwright's history.

"The size of the theater will have an impact on the way the play is written," he said.

Other works that would have been performed during the period Shakespeare's company was at The Theatre would have included "Henry IV," "Richard II," "King John," and "the Merry Wives of Windsor," Wiggins said.

Lyon said it's unlikely The Theatre's complete foundations will ever be fully excavated, but her team intends to examine them further. Fittingly, a new theater is being built on the site, ensuring the foundations below are protected.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Phoenix Lander finds water on Mars

The Phoenix spacecraft has tasted Martian water for the first time, scientists reported Thursday. By melting icy soil in one of its lab instruments, the robot confirmed the presence of frozen water lurking below the Martian permafrost. Until now, evidence of ice in Mars' north pole region has been largely circumstantial. In 2002, the orbiting Odyssey spacecraft spied what looked like a reservoir of buried ice. After Phoenix arrived, it found what looked like ice in a hard patch underneath its landing site and changes in a trench indicated some ice had turned to gas when exposed to the sun.

Scientists popped open champagne when they received confirmation Wednesday that the soil contained ice. "We've now finally touched it and tasted it," William Boynton of the University of Arizona said during a news conference in Tucson on Thursday. "From my standpoint, it tastes very fine."

Phoenix landed on Mars on May 25 on a three-month hunt to determine if it could support life. It is conducting experiments to learn whether the ice ever melted in the red planet's history that could have led to a more hospitable environment. It is also searching for the elusive organic-based compounds essential for simple life forms to emerge. The ice confirmation earlier this week was accidental. After two failed attempts to deliver ice-rich soil to one of Phoenix's eight lab ovens, researchers decided to collect pure soil instead. Surprisingly, the sample was mixed with a little bit of ice, said Boynton, who heads the oven instrument.

Researchers were able to prove the soil had ice in it because it melted in the oven at 32 degrees — the melting point of ice — and released water molecules. Plans called for baking the soil at even higher temperatures next week to sniff for carbon-based compounds. The latest scientific finding is the first piece of good news for a mission that has been dogged by difficulties in recent weeks.

An electrical short on one of Phoenix's test ovens threatened the instrument, but scientists said the problem has not recurred. The lander, which spent the past several weeks drilling into the hard ice, also had trouble delivering ice shavings into an oven until the success this week. NASA said Phoenix has achieved minimum success thus far. The space agency on Thursday announced that it would extend the mission for an extra two months until the end of September, adding $2 million more to the $420 million price tag, said Michael Meyer, Mars chief scientist at NASA headquarters.

Unlike the twin rovers roaming near the Martian equator, Phoenix's lifetime cannot be extended much more because it likely won't have enough power to survive the Martian winter. The science team also released a color panorama of Phoenix's landing site using more than 400 images taken by Phoenix. The view "was painstakingly stitched together," said Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, who headed the effort. The portrait revealed a Martian surface that was coated with dust and dotted with rocks.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Large new Dinosaur Discovery in Utah

A newly discovered batch of well-preserved dinosaur bones, petrified trees and even freshwater clams in southeastern Utah could provide new clues about life in the region some 150 million years ago. The Bureau of Land Management announced the find Monday, calling the quarry near Hanksville "a major dinosaur fossil discovery."

An excavation revealed at least four sauropods, which are long-necked, long-tailed planteating dinosaurs, and two carnivorous ones, according to the bureau. It may have also uncovered an herbivorous stegosaurus. Animal burrows and petrified tree trunks 6 feet in diameter were found nearby. The site doesn't contain any new species but offers scientists the chance to learn more about the ecology of that time, said Scott Foss, a BLM paleontologist.

The fossilized dinosaurs are from the same late Jurassic period as those at Dinosaur National Monument, which straddles the Utah/Colorado state line, and the Cleveland-Lloyd quarry near Price. It could be a decade or so before the full importance of the Hanksville quarry is known, Foss said. "It does have the potential to match the other major quarries in Utah," he said.

The site, roughly 50 yards wide by 200 yards long, was excavated by a team from the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Illinois. Museum officials visited the site for about a week last summer and returned this year for a three week excavation. The area has long been known to locals and BLM officials as a dinosaur haven. But no one knew of the site's magnitude until excavation began.

The bones were found in a sandstone channel of an ancient river. "The preservation of these dinosaurs is excellent," Foss said.

The mix of dinosaurs, trees and other species in the area may help scientists piece together what life was like 145 million years to 150 million years ago, including details about the ancient climate, Foss said. BLM plans to close the site to conduct an environmental assessment for continued work in the area. The agency isn't disclosing the exact location of the find because of security concerns.

Earthlike Planets Much More Common Than Previously Thought?

Astronomers find batch of SuperEarths

European researchers said on Monday they discovered a batch of three "SuperEarths" orbiting a nearby star, and two other solar systems with small planets as well. They said their findings, presented at a conference in France, suggest that Earth-like planets may be very common.

"Does every single star harbor planets and, if yes, how many?" asked Michel Mayor of Switzerland's Geneva Observatory. "We may not yet know the answer but we are making huge progress towards it," Mayor said in a statement.

The trio of planets orbit a star slightly less massive than our Sun, 42 light-years away towards the southern Doradus and Pictor constellations. A light-year is the distance light can travel in one year at a speed of 186,000 miles a second, or about 6 trillion miles. The planets are bigger than Earth, one is 4.2 times the mass, one is 6.7 times and the third is 9.4 times.

They orbit their star at extremely rapid speeds, one whizzing around in just four days, compared with Earth's 365 days, one taking 10 days and the slowest taking 20 days. Mayor and colleagues used the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher or HARPS, a telescope at La Silla observatory in Chile , to find the planets. More than 270 so-called exoplanets have been found. Most are giants, resembling Jupiter or Saturn. Smaller planets closer to the size of Earth are far more difficult to spot. None can be imaged directly at such distances but can be spotted indirectly using radio waves or, in the case of HARPS, spectrographic measurements. As a planet orbits, it makes the star wobble very slightly , and this can be measured.

"With the advent of much more precise instruments such as the HARPS spectrograph ... we can now discover smaller planets, with masses between 2 and 10 times the Earth's mass," said Stephane Udry, who also worked on the study.

The team also said they found a planet 7.5 times the mass of Earth orbiting the star HD 181433 in 9.5 days. This star also has a Jupiter-like planet that orbits every three years. Another solar system has a planet 22 times the mass of Earth, orbiting every four days, and a Saturn-like planet with a 3 yr period.

"Clearly these planets are only the tip of the iceberg," said Mayor. "The analysis of all the stars studied with HARPS shows that about one third of all solar-like stars have either SuperEarth or Neptune-like planets with orbital periods shorter than 50 days."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Mayan End of Days 2012

It is world known that the Mayan calendar says that the world is going to end on December 21st, 22nd, or 23rd (there is some debate about which day), but does it really say that? Or does it say something else entirely?

For the purposes of this article, I will refer to December 21, 22, and 23 as the "end of days". The Maya date civilization back to August 13, 3114 b.c. This is the beginning of the Mayan calendar. The date is also the beginning of the 5th Great Cycle. The Mayans believed that there are 5 Great Cycles of the Earth and that the beginning of civilization was the beginning of the 5th one. 2012 is the year thet the 5th Great Cycle is supposed to end. This is where the belief that the End of Days is 2012 comes from. All 5 Great Cycles are supposed to end in destruction.

There are several important events happening in 2012, particlularly on the end of days. The Earth, the Sun, and the black hole at the center of the Milky way Galaxy will align, this happens once every 26,000 years, also the Earth will complete one wobble around it's axis, another event that happens about once every 26,000 years ( more on happenings in 2012 later).

The Mayan calendar has made many prophesies that have come true. The third part of the calendar, the Katune is broken down into 13 parts each being 20 years and having it's own prophesy. For ex. Katune 10's prophesy is " Bleak times, Drought, famine, foreing occupation, change." Katne 10 last happened during WW2.

Katune 1's prophesy is "great changes, rebuild". This Katune next begins on the End of Days. Does this mean that there are going to be people left to rebuild? I believe that it does.

Nobody knows for sure, but in astrology, the Age of Aquaruis is supposed to begin sometime between the late 1900's to the early 2000's. Consensus is that it could begin close to the beginning of this century. Could it actually start on the End of Days? The Age of Aquarius is supposed to herald in a time of great changes and enlightenment, when we see what we have done wrong and really fix the problem.

Katune 2 (2032) is prophesised as" for half there will be good, the other half, misfortune, end of the world of God, uniting for a cause." I (and many others in the scholar community) believe that this means that these 2 halves must unite if we are going to survive.

Many believe that to figure out what is going to happen to us, we must look at what happened to the writers of the prophesies, the Mayans, and what happened to their civilization. The Mayan world was over populated, misused their natural resourses, and were in a constant state of warfare. When the Spaniards came, the Mayans were able to hold them back for years, then suddenly, the Spaniards overtook the Mayans. They seemed to have given into their fate.

Does any of the Mayan's story seem familiar to you? it should, the whole world is overpopulated, we are overusing our natural resourses, and the whole world is beginning to be in warfare. All we are missing is the invading force. I don't believe that the world is going to come to and end completly, but because of what we are doing to our environment and to each other, we ourselves are going to bring about the end of the world as we know it.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Could Humans Have Faced a Near Extinction 70,000 Years Ago?

An extensive genetic study is suggesting that human beings may have had a brush with extinction 70,000 years ago. The human population at that time was reduced to very small and isolated groups on the African Continent, most likely due to intense drought conditions, according to an analysis released Thursday. The report also notes that a separate study by researchers at Stanford University estimated the number of early humans may have been reduced to as low as 2,000 before numbers began to expand in the early Stone Age.

"This study illustrates the extraordinary power of genetics to reveal insights into some of the key events in our species' history," Spencer Wells, National Geographic Society explorer in residence, said in a statement. "Tiny bands of early humans, forced apart by harsh environmental conditions, coming back from the brink to reunite and populate the world. Truly an epic drama, written in our DNA."

Wells is director of the Genographic Project, launched in 2005 to study anthropology using genetics. The report was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics. Previous studies using mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down through mothers, have traced modern humans to a single "mitochondrial Eve," who lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago.

The migrations of humans out of Africa to populate the rest of the world appear to have begun about 60,000 years ago, but little has been known about humans between Eve and that dispersal. The new study looks at the mitochondrial DNA of the Khoi and San people in South Africa which appear to have diverged from other people between 90,000 and 150,000 years ago.

The researchers led by Doron Behar of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel and Saharon Rosset of IBM TJ Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY, and Tel Aviv University concluded that humans separated into small populations prior to the Stone Age, when they came back together and began to increase in numbers and spread to other areas.

Eastern Africa experienced a series of severe droughts between 135,000 and 90,000 years ago and the researchers said this climatological shift most likely contributed to the population changes, dividing into small, isolated groups which developed independently. Paleontologist Meave Leakey, a Genographic adviser, commented: "Who would have thought that as recently as 70,000 years ago, extremes of climate had reduced our population to such small numbers that we were on the very edge of extinction."

Today more than 6.6 billion people inhabit the globe, according to the US Census Bureau. The research was funded by the National Geographic Society, IBM, the Waitt Family Foundation, the Seaver Family Foundation, Family Tree DNA and Arizona Research Labs.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Centralia, Pennsylvania a town on fire since 1962

Johnathan Faust opened Bull's Head Tavern in 1841 in what was then Roaring Creek Township. In 1854, Alexander W. Rea, a civil and mining engineer for the Locust Mountain Coal and Iron Company, moved to the site and laid out streets and lots for development. The town was known as Centreville until 1865, when the post office was established and the name was changed to Centralia. Centralia was incorporated as a borough in 1866. The anthracite coal industry was the principal employer in the community. Coal mining continued in Centralia until the 1960s, when most of the companies went out of business. Bootleg mining continued until 1982. Strip and open-pit mining is still active in the area, and there is an underground mine employing about 40 employees three miles to the west.

The borough was served by two railroads, the Philadelphia and Reading and the Lehigh Valley, with the Lehigh Valley being the principal carrier. Rail service ended in 1966. The borough operated its own school district with elementary schools and a high school within its precincts. There were also two Catholic parochial schools in the borough. The borough once had seven churches, five hotels, twenty-seven saloons, two theatres, a bank, post office, and fourteen general and grocery stores. During most of the borough's history, when coal mining activity was being conducted, the town had a population in excess of 2,000 residents. Another 500 to 600 residents lived in unincorporated areas immediately adjacent to Centralia.

Mine fire
In May 1962, Centralia Borough Council hired five members of the volunteer fire company to clean up the town landfill, located in an abandoned strip mine pit next to the Odd Fellows Cemetery. This had been done prior to Memorial Day in previous years, but in previous years the landfill was in a different location. The firemen, as they had in the past, set the dump on fire, let it burn for a time, and then extinguished the fire. However, the fire was not extinguished.

In her 2007 book about Centralia, Joan Quigley asserts that the fire began on May 27 when one of the two commercial haulers serving the borough "hurled hot ashes onto the dump." Quigley cites "interviews with volunteer firemen, the former fire chief, borough officials, and several eyewitnesses, as well as contemporaneous borough council minutes" as her sources for this explanation of the fire.

The fire remained burning in the lower depths of the garbage and eventually spread through a hole in the rock pit into the abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia. Attempts to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful, and it continued to burn throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Adverse health effects were reported by several people due to the carbon monoxide produced.

Where PA Route 61 Cuts off due to the Mine FireIn 1979, locals became aware of the scale of the problem when a gas station owner inserted a stick into one of his underground tanks to check the fuel level. When he withdrew it, it seemed hot, so he lowered a thermometer down on a string and was shocked to discover that the temperature of the gasoline in the tank was 172 °F (77.8 °C). Statewide attention to the fire began to increase, culminating in 1981 when 12 yr old Todd Domboski fell into a sinkhole four feet wide by 150 feet (46 m) deep that suddenly opened beneath his feet. He was saved after his older cousin pulled him from the mouth of the hole before he could plunge to his probable death. The incident brought national attention to Centralia as an investigatory group (including a state representative, a state senator, and a mine safety director) were coincidentally on a walking tour of Domboski's neighborhood at the time of his near-death incident.

Section of PA Route 61 closed due to mine fire.In 1984, Congress allocated more than $42 million for relocation efforts. Most of the residents accepted buyout offers and moved to the nearby communities of Mount Carmel and Ashland. A few families opted to stay despite warnings from state officials.

In 1992, Pennsylvania claimed eminent domain on all properties in the borough, condemning all the buildings within. A subsequent legal effort by residents to have the decision reversed failed. In 2002, the United States Postal Service revoked Centralia's ZIP code, 17927.

A 1999 photo showing the abandoned highway, and its replacementA handful of occupied homes remain in Centralia. Most of the buildings have been razed, and at a casual glance the area now appears to be a meadow with several paved streets through it. Some areas are being filled with new-growth forest. Most of Centralia's roads and sidewalks are overgrown with brush, although some areas appear to be mowed. The remaining church in the borough holds weekly Saturday night services, and the borough's four cemeteries are still well-maintained. Centralia's cemeteries now have a far greater population than the town, including one on the hilltop that has smoke rising around and out of it.

The only indications of the fire, which underlies some 400 acres, spreading along four fronts, are low round metal steam vents in the south of the borough, and several signs warning of underground fire, unstable ground, and carbon monoxide. Additional smoke and steam can be seen coming from an abandoned portion of Pennsylvania Route 61, the area just behind the hilltop cemetery, and various other cracks in the ground scattered about the area. Route 61 was repaired several times until its final closing. The current route was a detour around the damaged portion during the repairs and became a permanent route in the mid 90's, thus abandonment occurred to the old route with permanent barriers being placed at both ends of the former route. However, the underground fire is still burning and will continue to do so for the indefinite future. There are no current plans to extinguish the fire, which is consuming an eight mile seam containing enough coal to fuel it for 250 years.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Battle of Hastings 1066

When Edward the Confessor died he left no direct heir, and the throne of England passed to Harold. However, William of Normandy claimed that Edward had promised the crown to him, and indeed that Harold himself had sworn a sacred oath to relinquish his claim in William's favour. William prepared an invasion fleet and, armed with a papal bull declaring his right to the throne, he crossed the English Channel to land near Pevensey.

Harold , in the meantime, had another threat to concern him; his brother Tostig allied with Harald Hardrada of Norway and landed in the north of England. They took York, but Harold defeated them soundly at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. No sooner had the battle dust settled than Harold received news of William's invasion in the south. He marched his tired men from York to Sussex, arriving there on October 13 to face the Normans.

The battle took place on October 14, 1066. Harold and the English army took up a defensive position on a high ridge known as Senlac. The battle began with devastating volleys of stone missiles hurled into the Norman infantry by the Saxon "fyrd", or irregular troops levied from the shires. William himself led the centre of the Norman army, and it is said that he carried into battle some of the holy relics upon which Harold had sworn to cede the crown to him.

The Norman infantry made no dent in the Saxon lines, and the cavalry fared no better. But when some of the Norman horsemen turned and fled, a large group of Saxons left their position to chase them. It was a fatal mistake, as William rallied his men and routed the unprotected attackers. The Saxon lines quickly closed, but they had not learned their lesson, and they repeated the same folly of chasing an apparently fleeing enemy twice more as the day wore on. By late afternoon the Saxon lines were wavering under continued Norman attacks. It is then that the most famous arrow in English history was released by an anonymous Norman archer. The arrow took King Harold in the eye, and a final Norman onslaught killed him where he stood. The rest of the leaderless Saxons ceded Senlac ridge yard by grudging yard, but eventually they had no choice but to turn and flee the field. The day belonged to Duke William, soon to be dubbed, "the Conqueror". The body of King Harold was eventually buried in Waltham Abbey.

The Battle of Hastings was the decisive Norman victory in the Norman Conquest of England. Although there were sporadic outbreaks of Saxon resistance to Norman rule after the Battle of Hastings, notably in East Anglia under Hereward the Wake, and in the north of England, from this point on England was effectively ruled by the Normans.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn

In 1875, Sioux and Cheyenne Indians defiantly abandoned their reservations, outraged over the continued intrusions of whites into their sacred lands in the Black Hills. They gathered in Montana with the great warrior Sitting Bull to fight for their lands. The following spring, two victories over the US Cavalry emboldened them to fight on in the summer of 1876. To force the large Indian army back to the reservations, the Army dispatched three columns to attack in coordinated fashion, one of which contained Lt. Colonel George Custer and the Seventh Cavalry. Spotting the Sioux village about fifteen miles away along the Rosebud River on June 25, Custer also found a nearby group of about forty warriors. Ignoring orders to wait, he decided to attack before they could alert the main party. He did not realize that the number of warriors in the village numbered three times his strength. Dividing his forces in three, Custer sent troops under Captain Frederick Benteen to prevent their escape through the upper valley of the Little Bighorn River. Major Marcus Reno was to pursue the group, cross the river, and charge the Indian village in a coordinated effort with the remaining troops under his command. He hoped to strike the Indian encampment at the northern and southern ends simultaneously, but made this decision without knowing what kind of terrain he would have to cross before making his assault. He belatedly discovered that he would have to negotiate a maze of bluffs and ravines to attack.

Reno's squadron of 175 soldiers attacked the southern end. Quickly finding themselves in a desperate battle with little hope of any relief, Reno halted his charging men before they could be trapped, fought for ten minutes in dismounted formation, and then withdrew into the timber and brush along the river. When that position proved indefensible, they retreated uphill to the bluffs east of the river, pursued hotly by a mix of Cheyenne and Sioux. Just as they finished driving the soldiers out, the Indians found roughly 210 of Custer's men coming towards the other end of the village, taking the pressure off of Reno's men. Cheyenne and Hunkpapa Sioux together crossed the river and slammed into the advancing soldiers, forcing them back to a long high ridge to the north. Meanwhile, another force, largely Oglala Sioux under Crazy Horse's command, swiftly moved downstream and then doubled back in a sweeping arc, enveloping Custer and his men in a pincer move. They began pouring in gunfire and arrows.

As the Indians closed in, Custer ordered his men to shoot their horses and stack the carcasses to form a wall, but they provided little protection against bullets. In less than an hour, Custer and his men were killed in the worst American military disaster ever. After another day's fighting, Reno and Benteen's now united forces escaped when the Indians broke off the fight. They had learned that the other two columns of soldiers were coming towards them, so they fled.

After the battle, the Indians came through and stripped the bodies and mutilated all the uniformed soldiers, believing that the soul of a mutilated body would be forced to walk the earth for all eternity and could not ascend to heaven. Inexplicably, they stripped Custer's body and cleaned it, but did not scalp or mutilate it. He had been wearing buckskins instead of a blue uniform, and some believe that the Indians thought he was not a soldier and so, thinking he was an innocent, left him alone. Because his hair was cut short for battle, others think that he did not have enough hair to allow for a very good scalping. Immediately after the battle, the myth emerged that they left him alone out of respect for his fighting ability, but few participating Indians knew who he was to have been so respectful. To this day, no one knows the real reason.

Little Bighorn was the pinnacle of the Indians' power. They had achieved their greatest victory yet, but soon their tenuous union fell apart in the face of the white onslaught. Outraged over the death of a popular Civil War hero on the eve of the Centennial, the nation demanded and received harsh retribution. The Black Hills dispute was quickly settled by redrawing the boundary lines, placing the Black Hills outside the reservation and open to white settlement. Within a year, the Sioux nation was defeated and broken. "Custer's Last Stand" was their last stand as well.

Friday, March 7, 2008

New Insights on the age of the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is far older than generally thought, says new evidence that scientists gained from studying from caves lining the canyon's red limestone cliffs. The Grand Canyon often is referred to as about 6 million years old — but its western half actually began to open at least 17 million years ago, a University of New Mexico team reports Friday in the journal Science.

Wait.... The western side of the canyon is the downstream end of the Colorado River, so how could it be older than the arguably more spectacular eastern side? Remember, geologists caution, that the Grand Canyon was carved from drainage systems that didn't turn into the single river we now know as the Colorado until roughly 6 million years ago. The new research suggests two canyons formed that eventually joined. And it makes sense that the older side would even look different, less jagged, thanks to more years of gravity and wind erosion to soften its edges.

"This is really exciting for those of us who work in the stories and theories of how the Grand Canyon has evolved," Arizona geologist Wayne Ranney, author of Carving the Grand Canyon, said of the new work. "This paper helps us to more clearly understand that different parts of the canyon formed at different times. That's how big the Grand Canyon is."

How and when the Grand Canyon formed has been a question of both geologists and average visitors since John Wesley Powell's famous first expedition in 1869. Dating the canyon's carving has been difficult because it has largely depended on evidence from exposed rock and mineral deposits that themselves erode over time. The University of New Mexico team tried a new technique: Testing formations inside the numerous caves that line the Grand Canyon — protected formations less susceptible to erosion — that form at the water table. So cave specialist Carol Hill said they should provide a record of how the water table dropped over time as the canyon was cut deeper and deeper.

First Hill and colleagues made the grueling climbs to cull the formations from caves in 10 different spots along the length of the Grand Canyon. Then came work in specialized labs to pin down the age of each formation, using a method called uranium-lead isotope testing.

The findings: The western side of what is now the Grand Canyon started forming about 17 million years ago, and that initial erosion was fairly slow and steady — a couple of inches every thousand years. The canyon formed not just downward and westward but it opened steadily to the east, too, through what geologists call "headward erosion," the team reports — until the western side cut through enough rock to meet water on the eastern side, around 5 to 6 million years ago. Then the action really started, with the eastern side of the canyon being cut at a rate of about 8 inches to almost a foot every thousand years, they report.

Why the speedup? The new research can't say exactly, but Ranney notes that land mass was shifting around a lot during this period, too, heaving some sections of rock and lowering others. The Hurricane and Toroweap faults in the western Grand Canyon dropped enough to essentially form a waterfall, speeding water flow enough that the eastern side was being ripped as the river plunged to the west, he explained.

While geologists point to some questions in the new research, overall it does fit with various theories about how the Grand Canyon formed, said Rebecca Fowler of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who also studies the Grand Canyon.

"All of it is pointing toward a pretty complex history of Grand Canyon development, which is one of the reasons this area has been so controversial," she said. "It's a pretty complicated system and it's very likely that the entire Grand Canyon did not incise (cut) all at one time."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Geology of Texas Part IV - Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods

This will mark the fourth in a series of writings on the Geological History of Texas. Part IV will cover the Triassic, Jurassic and the Cretaceous periods within Texas.

Triassic period (208-245 million years ago)
By Triassic time, colorful shales and sandstones were still being deposited, although in more restricted areas of the Panhandle. The Dockum group is well exposed at Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyons State parks and in the breaks along the Canadian River west of Amarillo. A wide patch or Triassic rocks also occurs east of Big Springs. However, rumbles of change in the configuration of continents are seen in Texas as the supercontinent of Pangea begins to split apart during the Triassic. The Gulf of Mexico begins to shudder open, and red shale, siltstone and sandstone are first the deposits to be shed into the down-warping south-east and east side of the Ouachita Mountain line. On land, ferns being anew, and there is a reawakening of the bryozoans.

Jurassic period (144 to 208 million years ago)
During Jurassic time the breakup of Pangea began in earnest. The Rocky Mountains were rising and the Gulf of Mexico occupied the new gap between North and South America. At the beginning the Gulf was a shallow sea not well connected to the other oceans. It dried up often leaving vast salt plains. The Louann Salt, the motherlode of salt domes in the Gulf Coast was thus born. Limestones of the subsurface Smackover formation were deposited when deeper marine water conditions prevailed. The dinosaurs were in full force by the Jurassic period and the first kinds of flowering plants and early rodent-like mammals also appeared. Jurassic rocks are virtually absent at the surface in Texas though Jurassic limestone, sandstones and shale beds can be seen along I-10 west of Sierra Blanca in westernmost Texas.

Cretaceous period (66 to 144 million years ago)
Texas Cretaceous rocks are fascinating! Lower Cretaceous rocks virtually blanket the center half of the state. Limestone cliffs, caverns, canyons, springs, abundant fossils and dinosaur tracks are all part of the scene. Upper Cretaceous rocks are found in a band from the Red River southward through Dallas/Fort Worth, to Austin, San Antonio and westward to Del Rio. The I-10 Interstate from San Antonio to Fort Bend runs entirely on Cretaceous rocks and wonderful canyon outcrops and roadcuts are seen along the road. The continents continues to pull apart in Cretaceous time. The Rocky Mountains underwent their major push and shallow seas on the continent's margins advanced and retreated repeatedly. Some sea advances filled the trough in front of the Rocky Mountains, creating a connecting seaway all the way from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. The shallow Cretaceous seas over Texas were filled with calcareous shelled organisms, and thick deposits of limestone were laid down. On the sandy shorelines and mudflats of these seas dinosaurs roamed freely, leaving evidence of their passing in fantastic fossilized footprints and trackways all across Texas. Many formation names are applied to descrive the complex suite of Texas Cretaceous rocks. The Lower Cretaceous portion is divided into Washita, Fredricksburg and Trinity groups from top to bottom, while Upper Cretaceous rocks are assembled into Navarro, Taylor, Austin, Eagle Ford and Woodbine groups from top to bottom. Cretaceous rocks form impressive cliffs at Santa Elena and Boquillas Canyons in Big Bend Park. The Hill Country around San Antonio and Kerrville is carved in Cretaceous rocks, as are the Colorado River Canyon north of Austin and the Devils River-Rio Grande Canyon west of Del Rio. While marsupials and bats arose in Cretaceous, and though dinosaurs and flowering plants proliferated, the winds of major change blew for life on Earth. At the close of the Cretaceous, the dinosaurs and many of their relatives disappeared forever. But strangley plant life marched across the Cretaceous boundary and into the Tertiary period virtually unchanged, as did the birds. Though the picture of dinosaurs choking to death from the cataclysmic dust of a meteor impact is a commonly touted idea, it does not explain why flowering plants or birds survived the holocaust. More work needs to be done on the geologic causes of the so-called mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous.

The next series of The Geology of Texas will cover the Tertiary and Quaternary periods to present day Texas.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Spanish American War - Teddy and the Rough Riders

After the sinking of The Maine , the Spanish-American War got off to a slow start. More than 250,000 soldiers rushed enthusiastically into the service. The army's quartermaster corps, however, had only fifty-seven men to supply the army with equipment. Soldiers gathered in Florida and waited impatiently for supplies and transportation. Some individuals organized and outfitted their own regiments. One such individual, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, resigned his post and formed a volunteer regiment of cavalry. Teddy Roosevelt did not intend to miss his chance at glory.

Roosevelt had been born forty years earlier to a wealthy New York family. He described himself as "a sickly, delicate boy" who "suffered much from asthma, and frequently had to be taken away on trips to find a place where [he] could breathe." Determined to overcome his physical limitations, Roosevelt embarked on a grueling program of body building. He practiced boxing, hunting, and riding, and after college he spent three years as a working cowboy in the wild Badlands of Dakota. "It was still the Wild West in those days," he wrote. "The West of the Indian and the buffalo hunter, the soldier and the cow-puncher." There he "led a free and hardy life with horse and rifle."

Roosevelt's political career political career began in the New York legislature. Next, after running unsuccessfully for mayor of New York, he served as that city's police commissioner. A loyal Republican, he campaigned tirelessly for McKinley in the 1896 election, and the president rewarded him with an appointment to the Department of the Navy. Now, seeking again the "hardy life with horse and rifle," Roosevelt waited in Tampa with his men. His regiment, which called itself the Rocky Mountain Riders, consisted mostly of cowboys from the West, although it contained a few Indians and wealthy polo players from the East as well. The papers called the regiment "Teddy's Terrors," but its commander was Leonard Wood, a physician who was also a colonel in the regular army. Roosevelt served as lieutenant colonel.

"Tampa was a scene of the wildest confusion," Teddy remembered. "There was no semblance of order." Thousands of men, horses, mules, and supply wagons were scattered about haphazardly in the tropical heat. Somehow the expedition reached Cuba. Still, "different parts of different outfits were jumbled together. . . . For instance, one transport had guns, and another had the locks for the guns. Soldiers went here, provisions went there, and who got ashore depended upon individual activity."

Roosevelt, always active, got his regiment ashore quickly. "We disembarked with our rifles, our ammunition belts, and not much else," he remembered. "I carried some food in my pocket, and a light coat which was my sole camp equipment for the next three days."

With the July temperature climbing above 100°, the soldiers plodded off through the thick jungle toward the city of Santiago. Wearing uniforms made of wool, the men struggled against the heat. Those who managed to obtain rations often discovered that their food had spoiled. Soon the ranks were riddled with malaria, fever, and dysentery. (Before the war ended, 5,200 Americans would perish from disease.) General Shafter, the army's commander, realized that if he didn't capture Santiago soon, he might not have an army left. After a few brief skirmishes, the armies confronted each other. The Spanish defended the San Juan hills, a long ridge east of Santiago. The Americans, arrayed in the valley below, sent up an observation balloon to study the city's defenses.

Roosevelt, who had managed to obtain a horse, rode up and down the lines anxiously. "I had come to the conclusion," he said, "that it was silly to stay in the valley firing up at the hills. . . . The thing to do was to try to rush the entrenchments." Never a man to stand on ceremony, Teddy took it upon himself to order the charge. With a pistol in one hand an a saber in the other, Teddy spurred his mount forward. His face grew flushed; his glasses clouded with steam; a wide grin covered his face. The rough riders followed on foot, and the Ninth Cavalry, an African American regiment, rushed forth beside them. As he reached the crest of Kettle Hill, Teddy saw its defenders fleeing before him. He fired at one of them, and later remarked that the man fell "as neatly as a jackrabbit."
Atop Kettle Hill, the soldiers dined on captured Spanish provisions. Later Teddy left his men and rode to the top of San Juan Hill, but the Tenth Cavalry, another African American regiment, had already stormed and captured it. That night the Americans repelled a Spanish counterattack. In the morning, General Shafter demanded that the Spanish commander surrender.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Battle of the Alamo

The Battle of the Alamo is full of myth and legend and is central to the creation of the State of Texas. This legend which continues to grow and capture the imagination of people not just in Texas but around the world as tourists flock to the site in droves.

The Mexican siege of the Alamo comprised of 13 days. Beginning Tuesday February 23 and culminating with the fall on Sunday March 6, 1836. The siege and final battle of the Alamo in 1836 constitute the most celebrated military engagement in Texas history. The Alamo is famous not only for the bravery and valiance of the stand but also for the large number of illustrious personalities among its combatants. These included Tennessee congressman David Crockett , adventurer James Bowie , and Mexican president Santa Anna . Although not nationally famous at the time, William Travis achieved lasting distinction as commander at the Alamo. For many Americans and most Texans, the battle has become a symbol of patriotic sacrifice. Traditional popular depictions, including novels, stage plays, and motion pictures, emphasize legendary aspects that often obscure the historical event.

To understand the real battle, one must appreciate its strategic context in the Texas Revolution. In December 1835 a Federalist army of Texas immigrants, American volunteers, and their Tejano allies had captured the town from a Centralist force during the siege of Bexar. With that victory, a majority of the Texan volunteers of the "Army of the People" left service and returned to their families. Nevertheless, many officials of the provisional government feared the Centralists would mount a spring offensive. Two main roads led into Texas from the Mexican interior. The first was the Atascosito Road, which stretched from Matamoros on the Rio Grande northward through San Patricio, Goliad, Victoria, and finally into the heart of Austin's colony. The second was the Old San Antonio Road, a camino real that crossed at the San Antonio Crossing and wound northeastward through San Antonio de Béxar, Bastrop, Nacogdoches, San Augustine, and across the Sabine River into Louisiana. Two forts blocked these approaches into Texas: Presidio La Bahía at Goliad and the Alamo at San Antonio. Each installation functioned as a frontier picket guard, ready to alert the Texas settlements of an enemy advance. James Clinton Neill received command of the Bexar garrison. Some ninety miles to the southeast, James Walker Fannin, Jr., subsequently took command at Goliad. Most Texan settlers had returned to the comforts of home. Consequently, newly arrived American volunteers-some of whom counted their time in Texas by the week-constituted a majority of the troops at Goliad and Bexar. Both Neill and Fannin determined to stall the Centralists on the frontier. Still, they labored under no delusions. Without speedy reinforcements, neither the Alamo nor Presidio La Bahía could long withstand a siege.

Bexar had twenty-one artillery pieces of various caliber. Because of his artillery experience and his regular army commission, Neill was a logical choice to command. Throughout January he did his best to fortify the mission fort on the outskirts of town. Maj. Green B. Jameson, chief engineer at the Alamo, installed most of the cannons on the walls. Jameson boasted to Gen. Sam Houston that if the Centralists stormed the Alamo, the defenders could "whip 10 to 1 with our artillery." Such predictions proved excessively optimistic. Far from the bulk of Texas settlements, the Bexar garrison suffered from a lack of even basic provender. On January 14 Neill wrote Houston that his people were in a "torpid, defenseless condition." That day he dispatched a grim message to the provisional government: "Unless we are reinforced and victualled, we must become an easy prey to the enemy, in case of an attack."

Soon after they had learned that Santa Anna's Centralist army had reached the Rio Grande. As Texans gathered in the Alamo, Travis dispatched a hastily scribbled missive to Gonzales: "The enemy in large force is in sight. We want men and provisions. Send them to us. We have 150 men and are determined to defend the garrison to the last." Travis and Bowie understood that the Alamo could not hold without additional forces. Their fate now rested with the General Council in San Felipe, Fannin at Goliad, and other Texan volunteers who might rush to assist the beleaguered Bexar garrison. Santa Anna sent a courier to demand that the Alamo surrender. Travis replied with a cannonball. There could be no mistaking such a concise response. Centralist artillerymen set about knocking down the walls. Once the heavy pounding reduced the walls, the garrison would have to surrender in the face of overwhelming odds. Bottled up inside the fort, the Texans had only one hope, that reinforcements would break the siege.

On February 24 Travis assumed full command when Bowie fell victim to a mysterious malady variously described as "hasty consumption" or "typhoid pneumonia." As commander, Travis wrote his letter addressed to the "people of Texas & all Americans in the world," in which he recounted that the fort had "sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours." He pledged that he would "never surrender or retreat" and swore "Victory or Death." The predominant message, however, was an entreaty for help: "I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch." On March 1, thirty-two troops attached to Lt. George C. Kimbell's Gonzales ranging company made their way through the enemy cordon and into the Alamo. Travis was grateful for any reinforcements, but knew he needed more. On March 3 he reported to the convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos that he had lost faith in Colonel Fannin. "I look to the colonies alone for aid; unless it arrives soon, I shall have to fight the enemy on his own terms." He grew increasingly bitter that his fellow Texans seemed deaf to his appeals. In a letter to a friend, Travis revealed his frustration: "If my countrymen do not rally to my relief, I am determined to perish in the defense of this place, and my bones shall reproach my country for her neglect."

On March 5, day twelve of the siege, Santa Anna announced an assault for the following day. This sudden declaration stunned his officers. The enemy's walls were crumbling. No Texan relief column had appeared. When the provisions ran out, surrender would remain the rebels' only option. There was simply no valid military justification for the costly attack on a stronghold bristling with cannons. But ignoring these reasonable objections, Santa Anna stubbornly insisted on storming the Alamo. Around 5:00 A.M. on Sunday, March 6, he hurled his columns at the battered walls from four directions. Texan gunners stood by their artillery. As about 1,800 assault troops advanced into range, canister ripped through their ranks. Staggered by the concentrated cannon and rifle fire, the Mexican soldiers halted, reformed, and drove forward. Soon they were past the defensive perimeter. Travis, among the first to die, fell on the north bastion. Abandoning the walls, defenders withdrew to the dim rooms of the Long Barracks. There some of the bloodiest hand to hand fighting occurred. Bowie, too ravaged by illness to rise from his bed, found no pity. Mexican soldiers slaughtered him with their bayonets. The chapel fell last. By dawn the Centralists had carried the works. The assault had lasted no more than ninety minutes. As many as seven defenders survived the battle, but Santa Anna ordered their summary execution. Many historians count Crockett as a member of that hapless contingent, an assertion that still provokes debate in some circles. By eight o'clock every Alamo fighting man lay dead. Currently, 189 defenders appear on the official list, but ongoing research may increase the final tally to as many as 257.

Though Santa Anna had his victory, the common soldiers paid the price as his officers had anticipated. Accounts vary, but best estimates place the number of Mexicans killed and wounded at about 600. Mexican officers led several noncombatant women, children, and slaves from the smoldering compound. Santa Anna treated surviving enemy women and children with admirable gallantry by not killing them. He pledged safe passage through his lines and provided each with a blanket and two dollars.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Christopher Columbus and the Lunar Eclipse

On Oct. 12, 1492, as every schoolchild has been taught, Christopher Columbus came ashore on an island northeast of Cuba. He later named it San Salvador (Holy Savior). Over the next ten years Columbus would make three more voyages to the "New World," which only bolstered his belief that he reached the Far East by sailing West. It was on his fourth and final voyage, while exploring the coast of Central America that Columbus found himself in dire straits. He left Cadiz, Spain on May 11, 1502, with the ships Capitana, Gallega, Vizca�na and Santiago de Palos. Unfortunately, thanks to an epidemic of shipworms eating holes in the planking of his fleet, Columbus' was forced to abandon two of his ships and finally had to beach his last two caravels on the north coast of Jamaica on June 25, 1503.

Initially, the Jamaican natives welcomed the castaways, providing them with food and shelter, but as the days dragged into weeks, tensions mounted. Finally, after being stranded for more than six months, half of Columbus' crew mutinied, robbing and murdering some of the natives, who, themselves grew weary of supplying cassava, corn and fish in exchange for little tin whistles, trinkets, hawk's bells and other rubbishy goods.

With famine now threatening, Columbus formulated a desperate, albeit ingenious plan. Coming to the Admiral's rescue was Johannes Muller von Kunigsberg (1436-1476), known by his Latin pseudonym Regiomontanus . He was an important German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer. Before his death, Regiomontanus published an almanac containing astronomical tables covering the years 1475-1506. Regiomontanus' almanac turned out to be of great value, for his astronomical tables provided detailed information about the sun, moon and planets, as well as the more important stars and constellations by which to navigate. After it was published, no sailor dared set out without a copy. With its help, explorers were able to leave their customary routes and venture out into the unknown seas in search of new frontiers.

Columbus, of course, had a copy of the Almanac with him when he was stranded on Jamaica. And he soon discovered from studying its tables that on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 29, 1504, a total eclipse of the moon would take place soon after the time of moonrise. Armed with this knowledge, three days before the eclipse, Columbus asked for a meeting with the natives Cacique ("chief") and announced to him that his Christian god was angry with his people for no longer supplying Columbus and his men with food. Therefore, he was about to provide a clear sign of his displeasure: Three nights hence, he would all but obliterate the rising full moon, making it appear "inflamed with wrath," which would signify the evils that would soon be inflicted upon all of them.

On the appointed evening, as the Sun set in the West and the moon started emerging from beyond the eastern horizon, it was plainly obvious to all that something was terribly wrong. By the time the moon appeared in full view, its lower edge was missing! And, just over an hour later, as full darkness descended, the moon indeed exhibited an eerily inflamed and "bloody" appearance: In place of the normally brilliant late winter full moon there now hung a dim red ball in the eastern sky.

According to Columbus' son, Ferdinand, the natives were terrified at this sight and ". . . with great howling and lamentation came running from every direction to the ships laden with provisions, praying to the Admiral to intercede with his god on their behalf." They promised that they would gladly cooperate with Columbus and his men if only he would restore the moon back to its normal self. The great explorer told the natives that he would have to retire to confer privately with his god. He then shut himself in his cabin for about fifty minutes.

"His god" was a sandglass that Columbus turned every half hour to time the various stages of the eclipse, based on the calculations provided by Regiomontanus' almanac.

Just moments before the end of the total phase Columbus reappeared, announcing to the natives that his god had pardoned them and would now allow the moon to gradually return. And at that moment, true to Columbus' word, the moon slowly began to reappear and as it emerged from the Earth's shadow, the grateful natives hurried away. They then kept Columbus and his men well supplied and well fed until a relief caravel from Hispaniola finally arrived on June 29, 1504. Columbus and his men returned to Spain on Nov. 7.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Geology of Texas Part III - Pennsylvanian to Permian periods

This will mark the third in a series of writings on the Geological History of Texas. Part III will cover the Pennsylvanian period and the Permian periods within Texas.

Pennsylvanian period (320 to 286 million years ago)
About 300 million years ago the Ouachita Mountain range rose to form a distinct feature across Texas, as the then North America continent collided with another continent to become part of the Pangea supercontinent . To the west of the uplifted Ouachita Mountains, the crust sagged in response and several basins formed. Seas and sediments found their way into the basins over time. Thick sections of Pennsylvanian aged marine limestones, along with shales and sandstones, underlie most of West Texas. The Cisco, Canyon, Strawn, and Bend are Pennsylvanian groups of rocks arranged in descending order of age.

Pennsylvanian rocks are found in roadcuts north and east of Marathon. From the Llano uplift northward to Jacksboro and Bowie lies a wide inclined belt of Pennsylvanian rocks arranged in bands, oldest to youngest, east to west. Marine fossil snails, clams, trilobites, bryozoans and ammonites are found in Strawn group rocks east of Mineral Wells. Canyon group snails, clams and crinoids are found along US 377 southwest of Brownwood. Cisco group brachiopods and clams occur northeast of Cisco. Fossils of fusulinids, one celled organisms that look like wheat, are very common and characterize rocks of Pennsylvanian and Permian age. Marble Falls limestone can be seen along the river on the east side of the Llano uplift.

Extensive forests of conifers, ferns, seedferns and horsetail trees in the Pennsylvanian period gave rise to coal deposits and reptiles first roamed these forests towards the end of the period. The Mississippian and Pennsylvanian are together called the "carboniferous" over much of the world because of the abundant coal deposits laid down during this time.

Permian period (245 to 286 million years ago)
Permian rocks are a geologic delight in Texas. Colorful red beds at the edge of the high plainsin the Panhandle are Permian, as are magnificent reef limestones on El Capitan in Guadalupe National Park, as well as oil-rich limestones in West Texas. Great climatic changes occured in the Permian as major grops of corals, bryozoans, brachiopods, fusulinids and crinoids became extinct along with the entire trilobite tribe. But the vertebrates such as mammal-like reptiles flourished. Land plants also changed, and the ferns, seedferns, and horsetail trees began to declineduring the Permian. But Plesiosaurus, lizards, thecodonts (precursors of dinosaurs and crocodiles) had their beginnings.

While marine reefs, and banks prevailed in shallow marine waters of West Texas, near-shore evaporation flatsin the Panhandle area produced deposits of bright red shales as well as salt and gypsum deposits.

Permian rocks at the surface in vast expanses of terrain in north Texas from the edge of the high plains eastward to Mineral Wells and Wichita Falls, southward past Abilene to San Angelo. Tracts of Permian rocks extend from northward from I-10 to Guadalupe National Park and westward to El Paso. There are dozens of formation names to describe various Permian-age rocks in Texas. some worth mentioning here are the upper Permian Quartermaster formation (red sandstones, shales, evaporite minerals) in Palo Duro Canyon. Others are the Capitan, Goat Seep, Brushy Canyon, and Bone Springs formations in Guadalupe National Park.

The next series of The Geology of Texas will cover the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Battle of the Bulge - World War II

On a wintery mid-December day in 1944, three powerful German armies plunged into the semi-mountainous, heavily forested Ardennes region of eastern Belgium and northern Luxembourg. Their goal was to reach the sea, trap four allied armies, and impel a negotiated peace on the Western front. Thinking the Ardennes was the least likely spot for a German offensive, American Staff Commanders chose to keep the line thin, so that the manpower might concentrate on offensives north and south of the Ardennes. The American line was thinly held by three divisions and a part of a fourth, while the fifth was making a local attack and a sixth was in reserve. Division sectors were more than double the width of normal, defensive fronts.

The Ardennes Offensive was planned in total secrecy, in almost total radio silence. Although Ultra, the Allies’ reading of secret German radio messages, suggested a possible German offensive, and the United States Third Army predicted a major German offensive, the attack still achieved surprise. Nowhere did the American troops give ground without a fight. Within three days, the determined American stand and the arrival of powerful reinforcements insured that the ambitious German goal was far beyond reach.

In snow and sub-freezing temperatures the Germans fell short of their interim objective - that of reaching the sprawling Meuse River on the fringe of the Ardennes. All the Germans accomplished was to create a Bulge in the American line. In the process they expended irreplaceable men, tanks and material. Four weeks later, after grim fighting, with heavy losses on both the American and German sides, the Bulge ceased to exist.

Battle Facts:
The coldest, snowiest weather “in memory” in the Ardennes Forest on the German/Belgium border.
Over a million men, 500,000 Germans, 600,000 Americans (more than fought at Gettysburg) and 55,000 British.
3 German armies, 10 corps, the equivalent of 29 divisions.
3 American armies, 6 corps, the equivalent of 31 divisions.
The equivalent of 3 British divisions as well as contingents of Belgian, Canadian and French troops.
100,000 German casualties, killed, wounded or captured.
81,000 American casualties, including 23,554 captured and 19,000 killed.
1,400 British casualties 200 killed.
800 tanks lost on each side, 1,000 German aircraft.
The Malmedy Massacre, where 86 American soldiers were murdered, was the worst atrocity committed against American troops during the course of the war in Europe.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why so much Oil in Texas?

Texas, blessed with an enormous national resource in oil, straddles a buried mountain range whose existence explains in large part the occurence of oil. About 300 million years ago (Pennsylvanian period) the northwest half of Texas was part of a continent that slammed into another continental piece, via the process of plate tectonics, to form part of the supercontinent Pangea . In the process a mountain range was heaved upward along the collision line. This range we now call the Ouachita Mountains . Pieces of this range are still exposed at the surface in Oklahoma, in the Llano uplift northwest of Austin, and around Marathon in southwest Texas. In between, the range lies buried in Texas beneath piles of younger sedimentary rocks.

On the continent side of the uplifted Ouachita Range, in west and northwest Texas, the crust was downwarped in several places in compensation for the adjacent uplift. These downwarps, or basins, continued to settle over millions of years, receiving organic rich deposits of calcareous mud from marine organisms living in shallow seas. Reefs and banks of limestone formed around the edges of the basins from the growth of abundant reef building animals. The organic rich mudstones, and even the basin edge limestones, were the source for much of the oil in West Texas, while the cavernous limestone reefs and banks became the reservoirs to store the oil. A magnificent example of these rocks and their story is to be found at Guadalupe National Park in West Texas.

By 200 million years ago (Jurassic period) Pangea began to pull apart in the great continent-wrenching episode that generated the Earth's present configuration of continents and ocean basins. The Gulf of Mexico began to drop away from the old Ouachita Mountain line as North America and South America seperated. At this early stage, the Gulf was only narrowly connected to to the other oceans, and upon this pan of sometimes ocean sometimes dry flat, thick layers of salt were evaporated. Thus formed the Jurassic aged Louann salt.

The Gulf of Mexico continued to deepen and thousands upon thousands of feet of sediment poured into the basin from the emergent North American continent. These were mainly organic-rich muds, similar in kind to delta deposits at the front of today's Mississippi River. River and shoreline sands were also laid down in this process to form the source reservoir combination that contributed to east Texas' gigantic oilfields. But, the thick pile of Mesozoic and Cenozoic aged sedimentary deposits bore down heavily on the Louann salt over time forcing it upward in tall domes and spikes. Around these domes oil was trapped in profusion.

Hence, Texas has a great amount of oil and gas because there has not been one but two great periods of hydrocarbon generation. First, the oil in West Texas was generated and trapped in a number of basins which developed in Paleozoic time in response to Ouachita mountain building. The second great period of oil generation is the product of later, Mesozoic tectonic forces, which opened the Gulf of Mexico and allowed the deposition of thick organic rich sediments.

The first well to produce oil was drilled in 1866 by Lynn T Barret near Melrose in Nacogdoches County in east Texas. In 1867, Armory Starr and Peyton Edwards brought in a well at Oil Springs in the same area giving Nacogdoches County the first commercial oilfield, pipeline and refinery in the state. However, the first major oil discovery came in 1894 when the city of Corsicana tried to drill a water well and discovered the Corsicana oil field instead! In 1901, the first great gusher and giant field was brought in by Captain Anthony Lucas who drilled Spindletop near Beaumont.

Machu Picchu - Incan Empire

The ruins of Machu Picchu, rediscovered in 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham , are one of the most beautiful and enigmatic ancient sites in the world. While the Inca people certainly used the Andean mountain top (9060 feet elevation), erecting many hundreds of stone structures from the early 1400's, legends and myths indicate that Machu Picchu (meaning 'Old Peak' in the Quechua language) was revered as a sacred place from a far earlier time. Whatever its origins, the Inca turned the site into a small (5 square miles) but extraordinary city. Invisible from below and completely self-contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces sufficient to feed the population, and watered by natural springs, Machu Picchu seems to have been utilized by the Inca as a secret ceremonial city. Two thousand feet above the rumbling Urubamba river, the cloud shrouded ruins have palaces, baths, temples, storage rooms and some 150 houses, all in a remarkable state of preservation. These structures, carved from the gray granite of the mountain top are wonders of both architectural and aesthetic genius. Many of the building blocks weigh 50 tons or more yet are so precisely sculpted and fitted together with such exactitude that the mortarless joints will not permit the insertion of even a thin knife blade. Little is known of the social or religious use of the site during Inca times. The skeletal remains of ten females to one male had led to the casual assumption that the site may have been a sanctuary for the training of priestesses and /or brides for the Inca nobility. However, subsequent osteological examination of the bones revealed an equal number of male bones, thereby indicating that Machu Picchu was not exclusively a temple or dwelling place of women.

One of Machu Picchu's primary functions was that of astronomical observatory. The Intihuatana stone (meaning 'Hitching Post of the Sun') has been shown to be a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods. The Intihuatana (also called the Saywa or Sukhanka stone) is designed to hitch the sun at the two equinoxes, not at the solstice (as is stated in some tourist literature and new-age books). At midday on March 21st and September 21st, the sun stands almost directly above the pillar, creating no shadow at all. At this precise moment the sun "sits with all his might upon the pillar" and is for a moment "tied" to the rock. At these periods, the Incas held ceremonies at the stone in which they "tied the sun" to halt its northward movement in the sky. There is also an Intihuatana alignment with the December solstice (the summer solstice of the southern hemisphere), when at sunset the sun sinks behind Pumasillo (the Puma's claw), the most sacred mountain of the western Vilcabamba range, but the shrine itself is primarily equinoctial.

Shamanic legends say that when sensitive persons touch their foreheads to the stone, the Intihuatana opens one's vision to the spirit world (the author had such an experience, which is described in detail in Chapter one of Places of Peace and Power, on the web site, Intihuatana stones were the supremely sacred objects of the Inca people and were systematically searched for and destroyed by the Spaniards. When the Intihuatana stone was broken at an Inca shrine, the Inca believed that the deities of the place died or departed. The Spaniards never found Machu Picchu, even though they suspected its existence, thus the Intihuatana stone and its resident spirits remain in their original position. The mountain top sanctuary fell into disuse and was abandoned some forty years after the Spanish took Cuzco in 1533. Supply lines linking the many Inca social centers were disrupted and the great empire came to an end. The photograph shows the ruins of Machu Picchu in the foreground with the sacred peak of Wayna Picchu towering behind. Partway down the northern side of Wayna Picchu is the so-called "Temple of the Moon" inside a cavern. As with the ruins of Machu Picchu , there is no archaeological or iconographical evidence to substantiate the 'new-age' assumption that this cave was a goddess site.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Battle of Shiloh - American Civil War

On the morning of April 6, 1862, the sun rose over the Union encampment at Pittsburg Landing. Neither Ulysses S. Grant , the Union commander, nor Albert S. Johnston, the Confederate commander, could possibly know what this day would hold. It would bring advances in military tactics. It would bring innovations in the medical field. It would change all preconceived notions that the Civil War would be short-lived. For Johnston and thousands of other brave soldiers on the Union and Confederate sides, it would bring death.

During the winter of 1861-62 Federal forces pushing southward from St. Louis captured Forts Henry and Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. This action forced Gen. Johnston to abandon southern Kentucky and much of West and Middle Tennessee. After withdrawing further south, he established a new line covering the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, the only all-weather link between Richmond and Memphis. Realizing that he could not wait for another Federal advance, Johnston began concentrating forces at Corinth, Mississippi, where he hoped to take the offensive and destroy General Grant's Army of the Tennessee before it could be joined by General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio.

On April 2, 1862, Johnston began his march from Corinth. "The roads were meandering cow paths," one confederate soldier said. Because of the lack of marching experience, the march took much longer than expected. Meanwhile, at the Union camp at Shiloh, the Federals troops spent a day drilling and merry-making. Hundreds went for a swim in Owl Creek. Others rested. There was also a good deal of diarrhea, which the boys labelled the "Tennessee quick step".

Grant wired his superior General H.W. Halleck . "I have scarecely the faintest idea of attack." Halleck told Grant to "sit tight at Shiloh and wait for Buell to arrive." William Tecupseh Sherman, division commander, was quoted saying to reporters, "Take your regiment to Ohio. No enemy is nearer than Corinth." Little did he know that the night of April 5, the huge and powerful Army of the Mississippi was poised to strike just out of sight of the Union camp. P.G.T. Beaureguard, second in command of the Confederates, felt they had lost the element of suprise because of some shots fired by the men in front. Beaureguard pleaded with Johnston to postpone the attack. "I would fight them if they were a million," Johnston said.

On the morning of April 6, Johnston told his fellow officers "Tonight we will water our horses in the Tennessee." When Johnston's powerful Army of the Mississippi hit the federal camps, they had achived complete suprise. The attack pushed most Union divisions back to reform elsewhere. Others fought doggedly to hold their line. Once the attack started, there was mass confusion on both sides. Most of the boys had never been in battle before, and did not know there orders. "It was a murderous fist fight."

The Rebels rolled over one Union position after another. Then, amongst the confusion along a sunken road, the federals finally established and held a line that stopped the southern advance. The division consisted of Illinois and Iowa farm boys mostly, under the command of General Prentiss. Grant's orders were to "Hold the sunken road at all costs." Prentiss greatly understood the seriousness of Grant's orders. Bullets buzzed through the saplings around the area, and it appeared and sounded like a hornet's nest. The Confederate infantry launched eleven attacks on the Hornet's nest. The Union line wavered and bent, but would not break. The Confederate artillery lined up sixty-two cannons at point blank range and fired on the sunken road. It was the largest number of cannons ever used at that time in a war effort. Under protection of the cannons the Rebel troops were able to move in and take the sunken road. The Union troops were forced to surrender. They had fought well holding the Confederates for six hours. For years to come Union veterans were proud to say, " I fought with Prentiss at the Hornet's Nest."

There was also a great deal of fighting at a peach orchard, just yards away from the Hornet's Nest. The peach trees were in full bloom. Many soldiers lay dead. Peach blossoms covered the dead like a fresh-fallen snow. Gen. Johnston led the last raid on the peach orchard. He came out with his clothes tattered from bullets that had grazed him, and his boot sole was shot. A Confederate officer saw him wobbling in his saddle and ask if he were hurt. "Yes," he replied. "And I feel seriously." His aid took him to a nearby tree. He was shot in the back of the leg. He bled to death. He could have easily been saved with a touniquet, but he had sent his surgeon off to care for Union prisoners.

A farm pond near the peach orchard was covered with soldiers from both armies. Many men went to bathe their wounds and drink from the water. For many it was their last drink The water was stained red with blood. That night dead lay everywhere. Neither army had developed a system for gathering the dead General Grant said a peson can walk in any given direction without stepping on ground." In a Confederate camp that night one soldier said, "You can hear the screams of the injured. They screamed for water, God heard them for the heavens opened and the rain fell." Flashes of lightening showed vultures feeding on the ungathered dead.

On the night of April 6, the long-awaited arrival of Don Carlos Buell's reinforcements arrived. Through the cover of gunboat fire, his troops came in on steamboats. The gun boats fired on fifteen minute intervals, allowing Buell's forces to come aground, and robbing the Confederates of their greatly needed rest. That morning the Confederates were pushed back on the ground that they had fought so hard to win the day before. With the fresh troops, the weary Rebels had little chance to win a complete victory. The Southerners were forced to march back to Corinth.

The final number of dead or missing was 13,000 on the Union side and 10,500 on the Confederate side. There were as many people killed at Shiloh as there were at Wateloo. The difference between that Napoleanic war and the Civil War is that there weren't twenty more Waterloos to come.

Shiloh was a decisive battle in the war. The South needed a win to make up for land lost in Kentucky and Ohio. It also needed to save the Mississippi Valley. Memphis and Vicksburg were now vulnerable to Union attack, and after Corinth there is now doubt that those cities would be the next targets. However, Grant and his men had been rid of their over-confidence by the battle of Shiloh. They now knew that hopes for and easy victory over the south were ill-founded. Grant knew then that this war was going to be, in the words of a Union Soldier, "A very bloody affair."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Geology of Texas Part II - Ordovician to Mississippian periods

This will mark the second in a series of writings on the Geological History of Texas. Part 1 covers the Ordovician period of 438-505 millions years ago, the Silurian period of 408-438 million years ago, the Devonian period of 360-408 million years ago and the Mississippian period 320-360 million years ago.

Ordovician Period (438-505 million years ago)
Extensive dolomite and limestone deposits, with less extensive chert deposits, were laid down in the shallow seas that covered Texas in Ordovician time. Remnant Ordovician outcrops are best seen in the Llano uplift northwest of Austin, and in the Marathon upliftand Franklin Mountains of West Texas. The Ellenburger and Maravillas formations appear along roadsides. The Ellenburger is especially noted for its gas production from great depths in basins of West Texas. Other Ordovician limestones yield brachiopods and corals on the top of the El Paso scenic drive in the Franklin Mountains. Cephalopods and gastropods are found in Ellenburger outcrops north of Cherokee in the Llano uplift region. Maravillas limestone and chert beds are seen in the Marathon uplift in West Texas.

Silurian Period (408-438 million years ago)
Limestone, dolomite and chert rocks were laid down in shallow marine waters in West Texas during the period. Silurian limestones in the Franklin Mountains bear rare brachiopods and corals. The first primitive land plants appear in the Silurian, and the corals first seen in late Ordovician time exploded in numbers and varieties.

Devonian period (360-408 million years ago)
Shale, sandstone, limestone and chert of shallow marine origin characterize the rocks of Devonian age in Texas. Amphibians first appear in the Devonian, and this was the golden age for the development of fishes. On land ferns, seedferns, and huge trees related to present-day horsetail rushes developed in Devonian but exploded in numbers in Mississippian.

Mississippian period (320-360 million years ago)
Shallow marine seas still covered Texas in the Mississippian period wherein marine shales and limestones were deposited. On land were fern-filled forests, while in the seas brachiopods, bryozoans, trilobites and corals were common. Mississippian shales and limestones are found in the Llano uplift and folded, upended roacks occur in roadcuts east of Marathon in West Texas.

Part III of the Geology of Texas will focus on the Pennsylvanian and Permian periods ranging from 245-320 million years ago.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Omaha Beach D-Day - World War II

Omaha Beach was the responsibility of the US V Corps. Major General Clarence Huebner's 1st Division would land with two regiments abreast, the 116th infantry (from the 29th division) on the right and the 16th Infantry on the left. Once the beach was secured, these regiments would be supported by two other regiments and the attackers would then seize the Bayeux Road to the south and perhaps reach Isigny to the west.

The gently sloping sand of Omaha Beach led to coarse shingle and immediately behind rose high sandy bluffs. There were only 5 exits through the bluffs and these valleys were protected by concrete bunkers. Nowhere else were assaulting troops confronted with such serious obstacles. The area was defended by the overextended 716th Division (responsible for the coastline from the Orne to the west of Omaha), but at Omaha it had been reinforced by the higher-quality 352nd Division. This reinforcement was not detected by Allied intelligence. While the British had placed emphasis on getting specialist armored vehicles ashore at the very beginning to deal with obstacles, the American approach was less technological and beach clearing was to be done by unarmored engineer teams. Lastly, the long run-in through heavy seas caused losses before the attackers reached the shore, and the coastal current meant that most landing craft beached eastward of their intended landfall.

At 5:40am the first DD tanks were launched 6,000 yards out, but most foundered at once, and of the 32 launched only 5 reached the shore. The artillery expected to fire on the way in did a little better. All but one of the German 105mm guns were taken out as were 6 of the German 7th Field Battery Battalion's pieces. Although naval bombardment had temporarily neutralized the defenses, they came to life as the landing craft neared the shoreline. The nine companies of the first assaulting wave were disgorged, overloaded, soaking wet and often seasick onto the surf of a bullet-swept beach. Undamaged obstacles gave them a degree of cover but posed a terrible risk to incoming DUKWs and landing craft.

The failure of the first wave meant that the specialist engineer teams were unable to work as planned, despite suffering 40 percent casualties that day. After the first dreadful hour the 116th Infantry had a toehold just west of Les Moulins, and, as much by luck as by judgement, it was there that the regimental command group under Colonel Charles Canham and the assistand division commander Brigadier General Norman Cota , landed. The view form the sea was depressing. One officer reported that the beach was clogged with infantry while landing craft milled about like a stampeded herd of cattle. Lieutenant General Omar Bradley , the US First Army commander, aboard USS Augusta, even briefly considered redirecting the remaining units to Utah Beach.

By this time there was progress on the beach as destroyers came dangerously close inshore to engage defenses at point blank range, and determined groups of men fought their way off the beaches. Sometimes they were formal leaders, and sometimes they were not. By yhe days end the Americans held a narrow strip of land between St Laurent and Colleville, but they lacked most of the resources needed for the planned advance inland. Omaha Beach had cost V Corps around 3,000 casualties, more than were suffered on the other beaches in total.