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See Europe’s Ruined Medieval Castles Resurrected


Seven virtual reconstructions offer a glimpse at the fortified past.

The past is often a refuge from the present. Whether it’s where you were two weeks ago or 10 years ago, there’s a certain security that comes from the certainty of then.

Perhaps that’s why a team of designers recently looked at the now-ruined castles of Middle Ages Europe, lifting the fortifications up from their dilapidated states and digitally reimagining the structures as they were in their heyday.

Though a semblance of their former glory remains, today, whether through combative slights or mere neglect, once-fortified sites from Ireland to Romania have degraded. The ruins sit on hilltops and abut cliffs—whatever best gave them dominion over the surrounding lands. They were the homes of rulers and landed elites, replete with turrets, towers, parapets, and—of course—very burly walls.

Now you can envision how these once-great fortresses may have looked in their heyday, before the ravages of time took hold. Seven European castles were virtually rebuilt, restoring them from their keeps to their baileys. Architects pored over old paintings, blueprints, and other research documents that describe the strongholds, then offered their opinions to the NeoMam Studios design team, which digitally revived the structures from the ground up.

From a northern French fortification built by Richard I of England to a castle once occupied by Vlad the Impaler, these buildings are reconstructed in a way that inspires you to think about how they once stood—seemingly permanent sentinels over their kingdoms, resolute even in the face of time itself.


Silent Films, Flower Festivals, and Cooking Classes to Enjoy at Home


Feast your eyes or sharpen your brain, from a distance.

At Atlas Obscura, we’re all about wonder and exploration—and since many of our readers are spending time at home to stay safe and healthy, we’re highlighting ways you can be awestruck no matter where you are. Read more.

As communities around the world respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, many lectures, performances, and other crowded events have been canceled. But many others have migrated online, and they can help you tap into wonder from home. Here’s how to feast your eyes or sharpen your brain from a distance.

Savor cherry blossoms and bulbs

This year, the National Park Service and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority discouraged visitors from congregating around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., whose riot of ballet-pink blossoms attracts roughly 1.5 million people in normal years. To stem the spread of COVID-19, the transit agency shuttered some nearby metro stops in an effort to slim the crowds and, and the Tidal Basin temporarily closed to vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists. (“The trees will still be there next year,” the transit agency tweeted.) In the meantime, you can swoon over photos and videos from this year’s glorious bloom, wherever you happen to be. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden cancelled its annual cherry blossom festival, but is tracking the status of its blooms so you can follow along at home. Check this map to see which trees have already erupted, and which are just on the edge. The Macon, Georgia, cherry blossom festival—billed as “the pinkest party on Earth”—set up a live bloom cam showing off some of its 350,000 trees, and will also stream concerts from March 27 to April 5.

The Bulb Show at Smith College in Massachusetts isn’t open to the public this year, but you can cue up a video and follow along as two students show you around the petal-packed alleys, and even describe the smells of tulips, anemones, forsythia, apple blossoms, and more of the 8,000 stunners on display.


Hone a new skill

It’s a fine time to step up your culinary prowess or just stockpile some nuggets of information. Brooklyn Brainery, a brick-and-mortar hub for affordably priced classes about pretty much everything, has moved many of its offerings online. Sign up to learn how to make dumplings or kimchi, or dive into the real tales of Caribbean pirates or the “archaeology” of alien landings, lost cities, and other murky histories.

Geek out on a digital walking tour

At the moment, it’s not safe to wander around as a roving band of nerds, but you can check out digital walking tours online. Turnstile Tours has adapted its tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brooklyn Army Terminal, street vendors’ carts, and much more into digital experiences you can enjoy at home. (Whether you clutch your phone and pace around your apartment while you watch is totally up to you.)


Go to the cinema

You can’t crowd into a theater, but you can watch alongside a bunch of other cinephiles all over the world. At 3 p.m. EDT on Sunday, March 29, the silent film accompanist Ben Model will be playing live to a trio of slapstick comedies. If bumbling antics and a plucky score sound like they might lift your mood, tune in on YouTube.

The Toronto International Film Festival’s Stay-at-Home Cinema project is streaming films online, including cult classics, and recruiting cast and crew to participate in virtual Q&As on Instagram. Check out the lineup here. The Virtual Cinémathèque at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne is also hosting remote screenings. (They’re weekly, and free.) Find the schedule here.

The Chef Bringing Native American Flavors to Communities in Quarantine


For Brian Yazzie, the COVID-19 pandemic evokes a history of smallpox, European colonization, and indigenous resilience.

What’s in your kitchen pantry? If you answered quinoa, green beans, or potatoes, you have, perhaps unbeknownst to you, been eating Native American heritage. “They might not know they have indigenous foods in their cupboard: might be canned corn, canned beans, squash,” says Brian Yazzie, a Twin Cities-based chef and food activist from the Navajo Nation, of his YouTube channel’s at-home viewers. But thanks to the ingenuity of indigenous farmers, who domesticated these crops over millennia, much of the world relies on Native American staples when times get lean.

Now is one of those times. Since mid-March, when more than a quarter of the United States population was directed to stay at home due to the novel coronavirus, food insecurity has intensified for many American households. Public-health experts recommend social distancing as one of the best ways to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. But for those stuck at home, especially the elderly or vulnerable, for whom a simple trip to the grocery store could mean a life-threatening brush with the virus, this poses a unique culinary challenge: How can we stretch pantry stables into nourishing meals?

Brian Yazzie, co-owner of Intertribal Foodways, an indigenous culinary and wellness organization that offers catering and cooking classes, is turning to Native American cuisine for an answer.


Like most American chefs, Yazzie canceled his in-person engagements for March and April. So he is bringing Native food directly into community homes. Yazzie has moved much of his operation online, offering how-to videos and one-on-one remote classes for home cooks looking to learn about indigenous American cuisine while turning their pantry staples into a feast. And he’s teamed up with the staff of the Minneapolis American Indian Center’s Gatherings Cafe to make and deliver meals to Native elders in the Twin Cities area. “Being an indigenous chef and being able to use my skills and network to help those who are in need in this time is keeping me sane,” Yazzie says.

Community efforts like these are particularly important for Native Americans, says Yazzie, because of the profoundly traumatic history of epidemics in indigenous communities. After European colonization, epidemics of smallpox, plague, and influenza devastated indigenous Americans. According to a recent estimate, 60 million people inhabited the Americas in 1492. By the 1600s, pandemic and colonial violence had killed 56 million people. That’s 90 percent of pre-Columbian people, or 10 percent of the world’s total population—the largest genocide in known history.


The effects of colonialism continue to plague Native communities, putting indigenous Americans, including Yazzie’s Navajo Nation, at particular risk from the novel coronavirus. One in three members of the Navajo Nation has diabetes or prediabetes, a condition that increases the risk of serious complications due to COVID-19, but only one-fifth of the Nation’s 23,000 elders have access to medical care. Native Americans lack plumbing at 19 times the rate of white Americans, making it nearly impossible to follow public-health advice about sanitation. And widespread food insecurity makes social distancing at home particularly difficult. There are only 13 grocery stores for the approximately 200,000 residents on the Navajo Nation, which covers 27,000 square miles in the American Southwest.

“The Navajo Nation is putting out a call to stay home, but it’s hard to do that when the nearest gas station or grocery story is hours away,” says Yazzie. As of March 25, there have been 69 identified COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation.

Yazzie grew up on the Navajo Nation, and moved to St. Paul in 2013 with his partner and the co-owner of Intertribal Foodways, Danielle (Hoonmana) Polk. “I had to leave my reservation to get a job or to get an education,” he says. He enrolled in culinary school in St. Paul, and his love of cooking brought him back to his roots. “I was looking through cookbooks, and I realized that not only have my ancestors survived Manifest Destiny and colonization, but they still have ingredients of the Americas,” he says. Indeed, while Native people and food are often erased in elite culinary establishments, their agricultural heritage is fundamental to the world’s most rarefied cuisines. “You can’t have Italian cuisine and French cuisine without squash, beans, corn, or even potatoes,” says Yazzie.


Most non-indigenous Americans associate Native food with dishes such as fry bread and Indian tacos. But, Yazzie says, “About 50 percent of indigenous tacos are indigenous to North America.” The rest, like the wheat flour, lard, and ground beef, became incorporated into indigenous American diets during colonization, part of a forced alienation from traditional food and agriculture that many blame for the current high rates of diabetes and heart disease in Native communities.

Yazzie acknowledges that many indigenous Americans, including elders forced to grow up in residential schools, have fond associations with foods like Indian tacos. But he chooses to focus on pre-colonial ingredients, combining pan-American foods into contemporary dishes such as bison heart tacos and roasted acorn squash with agave. Last year, he started featuring recipes like these on his YouTube channel, in an attempt to make his work more accessible to Native communities who lacked the resources to host a professional chef. “I started thinking about, how can I reach out to this community besides sending a recipe?”


This digital pivot has helped Yazzie reach community members during the coronavirus outbreak. Rather than his usual produce and game-heavy recipes, such as wild rice and bison liver and squash, corn, and tomato sauté with seared bison, Yazzie is taking requests from social media followers looking to cook with pantry staples. And he’s bringing his work directly into the homes of Native elders in the Twin Cities.

Each day, Yazzie and his fellow chefs meet at the Minneapolis American Indian Center’s Gatherings Cafe, check to make sure none of the staff have symptoms, don masks, and get to work. In their first week of operations, the chefs have been utilizing ingredients left in the Gatherings pantry after the Cafe closed in support of social-distancing measures.


The meals they’ve crafted aren’t what you’d typically associate with “clean-out-the-pantry” cooking. “Yesterday we made a bison and kale soup, and we added a sweet potato mash,” as well as organic local melons and in-house bread, says Yazzie. The next day, the menu included slow-braised turkey and mixed greens with homemade pickles and maple-candied sunflower seeds.

Community response has been eager, even joyous. “I reached out to the network I had and asked if anyone was available to donate food,” Yazzie says. Within hours, community members brought an “overwhelming” amount of food, including a cache of Bloody Butcher and Oaxacan Green corns, both heritage corn cultivars. “Seeing the resiliency from the Native community here in the Twin Cities brings me hope.”

With bison and beans, squash and sweet potatoes, Yazzie brings this hope to his viewers. If a pandemic is a reminder of the fundamental permeability of being human—viruses, after all, know no borders between nations or bodies—it’s also a reminder that healing, too, is collective. “Knowing that an elder has been fed, knowing that tomorrow they will be seeing a hot meal,” says Yazzie, “That’s what’s keeping me going.”

You can follow Chef Yazzie on YouTube at Yazzie The Chef TV, and request remote cooking lessons at the Intertribal Foodways website.

Join the conversation about this and other stories in the Atlas Obscura Community Forums.

How 'Shoebox Lunches' Made Black Travel Possible During Jim Crow


Humble shoeboxes allowed African-Americans to dine with dignity.

Youtube videos of celebrity sneaker-head closets often showcase massive square footage, multiple colorways on display, and not a box in sight. Your average hypebeast might wear new kicks a handful of times, then rebox and sell them for spring break plane fare. But for the mid-century African-American traveler, shoeboxes were culinary currency. During the age of Jim Crow, a sturdy shoebox with a meal inside could mean avoiding conflict or death.

In 1964, the Civil Rights Act became the law of the land. One function of the bill was to eliminate overt racism while traveling. Yet even after the bill went into effect, many food establishments kept forcing black customers to order chocolate ice cream parfaits from frumpy side windows, while twisted-lip atmospheres in roadside stores deterred black vacationers from buying penny candy. Public accommodations, such as hotels, could no longer refuse lodging to African-Americans, but certain tactics could deny individuals a place to stay.


Pre-made meals not only reduced costs but served as your breakfast, if your route was void of sites listed in The Negro Motorist Green Book, a paper directory created by Victor Greene to guide black drivers and voyagers. "I remember my first travel experience to visit my grandmother. I was around four years old. We'd catch a train from Seattle, Washington, to Pine Bluff, Arkansas. We brought food on the train," says Patricia Patton, a retired hospitality professional and entrepreneur. "In the 1960s, my family brought a car, and we'd drive from the Pacific Northwest to San Diego to visit family. The cooler would be packed with enough to eat for three days.”

Many families started each trip by reminding kids of the rules—daylight bathroom pit stops only, and lunch served in the car. This extra caution was vital. "I was born in the late 1940s. I was not supposed to stare or look at people while traveling,” says Patton. “Often, my mother's hand would tuck my forehead down, and no playfulness—we remained still to avoid any confrontation with white people.”

In Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America, author Candacy A. Taylor makes it clear that women were the powerhouses that made getting to and fro easier. A mother's to-do list then was more than untangling iPad chargers and buying granola bars; it was icing down a cooler and twisting handkerchiefs containing pinches of salt and pepper. The matriarch's job included repositioning the Stanley-type thermos, filled with water, from shifting on the floorboard.

When it was time to eat, Taylor notes, a "shoebox lunch" was set up, and most often, it was cold fried chicken pieces, thickly sliced country ham sandwiches, buttery pound cake chunks, and winter oranges or backyard peaches. The condiment-slathered sandwiches and an unbreakable platter for the perfectly piped deviled eggs would likely sit high up in the cooler to avoid spoilage.


Not everyone used an actual shoebox. Different vessels served the same purpose. Historical photos of the second Great Migration show black Americans in bus and train stations carrying metal lunch pails, slightly crumpled paper sacks, and packages tied with fabric or string. For individual leisure or business travel, the mode was always discretion, and dignity while consuming food was of utmost importance. A slice of layer cake doesn't carry well and requires a utensil, but a wax paper-wrapped sweet potato pie slice doesn't. Bologna sandwiches, fried pork chops, biscuits with homemade fig preserve, golden cornbread, teacakes, raisins, cheese, pickles, shelled pecans, peanuts, and apples are all portable foods that made an appearance on the laps of black passengers.

Though the era of the shoebox lunch has passed, they have become an emblem of resilience. One restaurant has even created replicas of the receptacle in tribute. Since 2017, the sleek, upscale soul food joint Beans & Cornbread in suburban Detroit has sold golden, perfectly seasoned chicken wings, cornbread, and your pick of two sides in a keepsake shoebox, with black history facts and illustrations lining the sides. Owner Patrick Coleman even sends the boxes to schools around the country as educational tools. “This year, we have shipped flat boxes to 34 states," says Coleman.


Paired with hashtags such as #blacktravelmovement, hilarious Facebook threads on flying with miniature Hennessy bottles and Instagram stories documenting road trip eats are common. But many still pack food while traveling; it's part nostalgia, part economics, and part logistics.

Omar Tate, a chef who writes about growing up in Philadelphia and unraveling his roots, left his steady culinary job in 2017 to retrace his southern lineage. His journey included several MegaBus legs. "The Savannah to Charleston bus ride is so beautiful, and most of the passengers are black," he says. Coincidentally, his cousin recreated a shoebox lunch when packing him leftover chicken for his journey from North Carolina to Brooklyn. Not until he reflected did he realize this was a meaningful practice of the past. "I felt thankful for the freedom to experience traveling as a spiritual voyeur,” he says. "I felt protected every step of the way."

This article was commissioned in partnership with the Museum of Food and Drink. MOFAD’s upcoming show African/American: Making the Nation’s Table is the first major exhibition on the culinary contributions of black Americans.

Are the Great Outdoors Off-Limits During a Pandemic?


"Obey the f***ing law and do what public health authorities tell you to do."

Theodora Blanchfield, a therapy student and freelance writer, lives alone in Santa Monica. Every afternoon, she joins her neighbor to walk their dogs along the beach: two-hundred and forty-five acres of soft, California sand. “It makes me grateful to be outside of my apartment, to feel open space instead of confinement,” says Blanchfield, who has struggled with depression. “Being by the ocean always calms me. It has been very, very, very, very soothing.”

When the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, enacted the first statewide stay-at-home order in the U.S., to combat the spread of the new coronavirus last Thursday, outdoor recreation was baked into the directive as an essential activity. As more states have gone on lockdown, they’ve issued similar instructions: Go outside, just stay six feet apart from anyone you don’t live with.

Unfortunately, in a world that’s changing by the hour, the Golden Rule of Physical Distancing is not the only factor in finding a socially responsible way to commune with nature. We should also be thinking about how our outdoor activities might affect others: If we get injured or sick, will we stress the resources of small gateway towns, or potentially take emergency responders away from COVID-19 patients? Will the people I pass on my walk be as careful as I am?

Let’s start with the good news. There are loads of studies touting physical activity and natural environments as salves for anxiety and depression, and if there were ever a time people might feel anxious or depressed, even without a medical history of these issues, it’s now. Meanwhile, the virus “dissipates quickly outside, both becoming less dense in the outside air volume and more easily destroyed by UV light,” says Ellen Jo Baron, professor emerita of pathology at the Stanford University Medical Center.

In other words, the coronavirus has a harder time spreading en plein air, perhaps even more so in sunny places. “The concentration of virus drops off very quickly as you get farther away from a person” carrying it, adds Dr. Timothy Brewer, an epidemiology professor and member of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UCLA.


So far, outdoorsing for the sake of mental and physical health has been allowed and actively encouraged in many parts of the U.S. Last week, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt suspended national park entry fees to make it “a little easier for the American public to enjoy the outdoors,” while noting that many park facilities, such as visitor centers, would close. Philadelphia indefinitely closed Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive to vehicles, to give people more room to distance along the adjacent Schuylkill River Trail. And New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said he would experiment with closing two streets in each borough to help spread people out.

All of this pandemic-time outdoor recreation is a good thing, Brewer says—assuming everyone stays in their 6-foot bubble and everyone who has symptoms (cough, fever, shortness of breath) stays at home. (We don’t know enough about asymptomatic people, he says, to give sound advice.)

Still, these rules of thumb can get more complicated if you live in a densely populated area, or travel to parks and natural spaces that see large numbers of visitors, such as national parks. Ever since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11, and “social distancing” became a way of life all around the world, social media has been flooded with images of people flouting the command: packed beaches, crowded hiking trails, picnic-filled parks.

Many areas are beefing up their restrictions in response. Across California, state parks are closing parking lots or shuttering altogether, after several of them were inundated with visitors over the weekend. “The high volume of usage by the public of parks, beaches, and open space makes it impossible for persons to maintain the required social distancing, especially in those areas where recreational biking is allowed,” wrote Sonoma County’s health officer, Dr. Sundari R. Mase, in a March 23 order. The writ also cited a domino effect as part of the decision: If the county did not take action, then as nearby areas announced similar closures, even more people might flood into Sonoma’s parks.


National parks are also closing. Less than a week after the U.S. National Park Service axed entry fees, a number of parks, including Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, Great Smoky Mountains, and Yosemite, had completely shuttered, citing congestion on popular trails, fear of overwhelming nearby medical facilities, and concern for the health of visitors, rangers, and gateway-town residents. The National Park Service has been posting around a dozen news releases a day simply to announce modified park operations or closures.

Even popular outdoor towns, such as Moab, Utah, have closed to visitors, to protect themselves. And several state parks or parts of them are being converted into overflow quarantine centers. Georgia reserved an acre of the 5,800-acre Hard Labor Creek State Park for this purpose. Louisiana is using Chicot State Park for for overflow as well, while Los Angeles docked 25 RVs at Dockweiler Beach for coronavirus patients with no place to self-isolate. As the California State Parks website states in bold, regarding closures: This list is dynamic and will be updated regularly.

Since the rules and recommendations keep evolving, how are you supposed to make sense of them? Michael Robertson, a professor at the University of Sydney’s Health Ethics Centre, says it’s tough for anyone to make a truly informed choice about their recreational options right now. We may want to go outdoors to be by ourselves, but if others do the same, our individual decisions can add up to consequences for everyone, including reduced access for everyone. Italy and Spain have banned leisure cycling outside, and France has now limited outdoor exercise to one hour, once a day, alone, within one kilometer of home.

“The mixed messaging people are getting—it’s kind of an evolving process,” he says. “People were just told, ‘OK, just wash your hands’—and now we’re looking at a shutdown of the economy and a potential depression. People can’t process that.” The waiving of national park fees, followed by the total closure of many national parks, may seem confusing or contradictory.


Given all this, Robertson says that the ethical choice is actually pretty simple: “Obey the f***ing law and do what public health authorities tell you to do.” If they tell you to avoid parks or beaches, listen to them. And if you need a dose of the great outdoors, take the initiative to stay informed. You can’t necessarily rely on advice you heard a week ago, so check for recent public health announcements as well as notices from local, regional, and national authorities.

For Theodora Blanchfield, in Santa Monica, the daily walk is more than a breath of fresh air. “This is a little bit cheesy,” she says, “but I lost my mom a couple of years ago, and feeling the sun is one of the ways I feel connected to her. It’s just incredibly healing to me.” When California’s Governor Newsom issued statewide stay-at-home orders on the 19th, Blanchfield’s first question was: “But I can still go outside, right?” Currently, the answer is yes—but as of Friday afternoon, she can no longer go to the beach. Los Angeles County temporarily closed all of its beaches, trailheads, piers, and beach bike paths in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. “I’m honestly feeling pretty scared right now,” Blanchfield says, when asked whether she has other places to experience the outdoors. “I live on a really crowded, really busy road. But yes, there are other places I can walk.”

No matter how far you’re able to roam in the coming weeks, remember to keep your distance from others, wash your hands often, and stay tuned for updates from public officials.

You can join the conversation about this and other stories in the Atlas Obscura Community Forums.

Lose Yourself in a Mesmerizing, Meticulous Map of the Met


The beloved New York museum comes alive in this massive and mysterious illustration.

In March, the Metropolitan Museum of Art joined thousands of museums that have closed their galleries to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It might be months before its doors reopen, but anyone with an internet connection can explore 5,000 years of art from the museum’s holdings. You can revel in the intricacies of incense burners from around the world; lose yourself in a garden; even go bird-watching.

A standout among these many resources is a charming, illustrated map of the museum that was created before the Met had a Digital Media Department. Hand-drawn by artist John Kerschbaum, who received the commission in 2004, the Family Map charts out every gallery of the museum on a single, 18-by-24-inch page. Kerschbaum lives in New York City and based the Met map on a similarly saturated 1976 poster of Manhattan by artist Tony Graham.

Kerschbaum made countless visits to the encyclopedic museum and drew hundreds of sketches. “Each department head gave me 50 of their most important pieces that are almost always on display,” Kerschbaum says. “I’d have a floor plan of the museum and a clipboard, and I’d make notes of where each item was, either by name or a quick sketch.” Beginning with Egypt in the lower-right-hand corner, he worked his way outward, condensing hundreds of galleries across five floors—plus the roof garden—into a single plane teeming with history and culture.


In the dizzying final result, every department explodes with comic-style book-like representations of resident sculptures, paintings, and more. Tiny, colorful tapestries surround the famous Spanish choir screen in the Medieval Sculpture Hall; in the Egyptian Art wing, the Temple of Dendur looms over ancient seated statues. “I walked around the museum a lot,” Kerschbaum says. “It was good to take a break every once in a while because I started seeing it in my sleep.”

According to Emily Blumenthal, a lead educator in the museum’s Education Department, the map has been the museum’s most popular publication for kids and their families since its publication in 2007. “Its Where’s Waldo? approach, with entertaining illustrations that transcend language barriers, inspires engagement by visitors of all nationalities,” she says. “We find that kids and families use it for finding their way to highlights of The Met collection, gathering tips for what to do as a family in the Museum, and keeping it as a memento of their visit.” The map is available for free at the museum, but it’s just as handy as a remote activity to test one’s knowledge and observational skills.


Kerschbaum’s map is part navigation tool, part “I spy” puzzle: Clues adorn its border, prompting users to search for such sights as “a room full of Wright angles,” “a painting of the back of a painting,” and “a trompe l’oeil fly (really tough!).” And while most visitors today might navigate the museum using a more up-to-date online map, the whimsy of Kerschbaum’s drawings is timeless.

“Some sections have changed completely—like the American wing has been completely redone—and some parts are dated,” Kerschbaum says. “But 12 years later I still hear from people who just found the map who are finding it fun to look at.”

As challenging as it was to cram the nation’s largest art museum into a single illustration, the artist made sure he had some fun. Most of his cartoonish patrons are fictional, but Kerschbaum depicts himself with his wife and daughter on the Grand Staircase—just behind Philippe de Montebello, the museum’s director at the time. In the gift shop, his wife shows up once more, perusing postcards. Kerschbaum also makes a solo appearance in the European galleries in front of Vincent van Gogh’s 1889 painting “Corridor in the Asylum.” “At that time the map was starting to get to me,” he jokes. “I thought that made a good background.”


When Kerschbaum started the map, he didn’t know that much about the Met. Now, he knows it well enough to roam around without much guidance. “I even take pride in knowing where all the bathrooms are,” he says. “I tell people about the ones that aren’t crowded.”

Reaching this level of familiarity might take you a while, but the Family Map is a good place to begin any journey. When the museum reopens sometime in the future, don’t forget to pick up a copy from any information desk—or simply bring your own printout.

3 Transportive Documentaries That Can Take You Away


Around the world and back in time from the comfort of your couch.

As long as communities around the world continue to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, chances are you won’t be roaming far from home. But that doesn't mean you can't feel transported. Cue up these documentaries—all of which are available for streaming—and you can go from Singapore to the savanna without ever leaving your couch.


Tiptoe to cliffside hives in North Macedonia and savor sweeping shots of a rugged, rolling landscape with tender attention to Hatidže Muratova’s practice of raising wild bees—all shot in a style as luscious as honey. (Streaming on Hulu)


Night on Earth

What do animals get up to after the sun goes down? This six-episode documentary series tags along on nocturnal adventures with low-light cameras to capture darkened plains, deserts, tundras, seas, and cities. Slink behind leopards prowling Mumbai’s streets for dogs to eat, or scamper around with a crew of hundreds of long-tailed macaques in Thailand’s traffic, where they leap into trucks and pry open wrappers in pursuit of food. Come for the antic action, stay for the cool effects: Some of the footage glows white or green, as if the creatures are playing an epic, life-or-death game of laser tag. (Streaming on Netflix)


Dawson City: Frozen Time

Bundle up and shuffle into Dawson City, a community in Canada's Yukon Territory. Tens of thousands of prospectors flocked to the area, the homeland of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, at the end of the 19th century. As the population of gold-hunters swelled, theaters opened up to keep residents entertained. In the 1970s, a backhoe-driving construction crew unearthed more than 530 rare silent film reels that had been sealed up for decades. The documentary, which relies heavily on old footage, weaves together the history of the community and the history of film itself. (Streaming on Amazon)

What Do California Otters and Virginia Opossums Have In Common?


A pathogen that doesn't care about social-distancing rules.

As the new coronavirus continues to wreak havoc, hopping from human to human, scientists have figured out how another perilous pathogen has been sliding from land to sea.

Scientists have long known that disease-causing parasites play host hopscotch to survive. Now, researchers at the University of California, Davis, and colleagues have mapped the game as it’s played by Sarcocystis neurona, a pathogen that causes brain swelling in sea otters, which often kills them. Off the West Coast, it turns out the parasite slips from opossums to otters by way of clams—a complex transmission chain that’s exacerbated by human activity, according to a paper published recently in Scientific Reports.

The years-long study entailed capturing more than 700 sea otters to test them for disease exposure. Which is easier said than done. “You can’t just go out and bag them up,” says Tristan Burgess, wildlife veterinarian and epidemiologist at Acadia Wildlife Services in Maine, also of the One Health Institute at UC-Davis, and one of the paper’s co-authors. “They are pretty wily; they see you coming.”

Snagging an otter for science requires a boat, spotters on land and at sea, veterinarians at the ready, and divers who have to swim up from below with a specially designed trap, then hold on to what is essentially thrashing shark bait (wiggly otters are a big temptation) in a place where there are a lot of sharks. “The divers like us to get them back in the boat ASAP,” Burgess says.


The work created the biggest and longest-term live-capture data set ever collected for sea otters. With it, the team found clusters of the infection off the coasts of Southern California and Washington state, and parts of Canada, but much less of it off Alaska.

They believe the parasite takes a circuitous route that starts on land, in Virginia opossums—also called North American opossums, with a range that includes Central America—then moves via freshwater runoff, such as that from storms, to filter-feeding clams, where the pathogen becomes concentrated. Otters then eat those clams and get sick. The runoff-to-clam link lets the parasite infect otters outside of the opossum’s immediate area, the scientists say, although Alaska appears to be mostly out of reach.

In addition to the marine mammals’ clam-rich diet, the study found that certain landscapes help the parasite succeed. Wetlands, for example, are a favorite habitat of the parasite’s hosts, the opossums. Agricultural lands and dense human housing also seem to draw opossums, while irrigation, artificial drainage, and pavement help increase the runoff that parasites ride into the sea. And the soft sediment at the mouths of rivers and estuaries is another parasite booster, because of all the clams there.

“In a way, sea otters are urban wildlife,” says Burgess. “They live close to shore, and don’t have an aversion to living near people. And they use habitat that’s near rivers, which connects them physically to the land. What happens on land, then, can put them at risk of exposure.”

Decades of studies by scientists led by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife previously found a similar story with Toxoplasma gondii, another pathogen that kills marine mammals. It has its own land-to-sea transmission path: When the feces of wild and feral cats gets into the water, the parasite accumulates in kelp forests. Its eggs are picked up by turban snails as they munch kelp fronds. The otters then eat the pathogen-filled snails.

“[Sarcocystis neurona and Toxoplasma gondii] are closely related parasites, both thought of as terrestrial until we found them in marine mammals,” says veterinarian and epidemiologist Elizabeth VanWormer of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, who was not involved in the new study. “Although they both move from land to sea, we now know that steps in their transmission chains are likely different—which reminds us there are many similar themes out there, but with different mechanisms. It makes things tricky.”

Nowadays, she says, it takes scientists from a host of disciplines—from epidemiology to hydrology to wildlife behavior—to tease out the various factors driving any single disease.

The study also highlights that what humans do on shore has effects that reach marine ecosystems. For example, as with the domestic cats transmitting T. gondii, “the Virginia opossum isn’t native to the West—so sea otters would have had no contact with them historically,” says Burgess. The animal was introduced to western states during the Great Depression, perhaps as a food source, and it soon established itself along much of the Pacific coast, including southern British Columbia. Now it plays host to S. neurona.


Meanwhile, “our actions, how we shape our coastal watersheds, influence parasite runoff,” says VanWormer. “When we change the way water flows by paving or otherwise developing the coast, we give parasites new ways to flow off the landscape and reach [targets] they didn’t have before.”

What it comes down to is “pathogen pollution,” says Burgess. “We are doing things that increase the opportunity for pathogens to find new hosts and enter new spaces.” Sometimes the results are mild, but other times “we see millions of deaths, or even multiple species going extinct, as with chytrid fungus in amphibians and white-nose syndrome in bats.”

S. neurona is not known to transmit to humans, though T. gondii can; it may sicken immunocompromised people, and can have severe effects on unborn fetuses. (It’s the reason doctors advise pregnant women not to clean their cat’s litter box.)

In fact, about two-thirds of known infectious organisms are zoonotic, meaning they can make the leap from animal to human hosts—just like the coronavirus responsible for the current pandemic, which most likely originated in bats. These zoonotics are the parasites most often associated with emerging diseases.

Until we better understand the way pathogens of all sorts move around—whether from land to sea or from bat to human (with other hosts in between)—says Burgess, “we risk allowing something we haven’t seen before to spill over.”

And that, as we know all too well in 2020, can have tragic consequences.

7 Historic Dishes Born From Tough Times That You Can Make at Home


Use every last crumb with these feats of culinary creativity.

To limit grocery-store trips during social distancing, many home chefs are looking for ways to use every last bit of what’s in their cupboard or refrigerator. The COVID-19 pandemic may feel like uncharted territory, but history is filled with examples of cooks getting creative in times of hardship. From the crispy burger born during the Great Depression to the simple delights of “desperation pies,” here are seven delicious dishes born from tough times that you can make at home. Most involve ingredients that you can find in your kitchen.


The Slugburger

As you find yourself stretching packs of ground beef, consult the “meat extending” techniques of the Great Depression. When hard times hit the greasy spoons of the American South, restaurant owners supplemented their thinning patties of ground beef or pork with potato flour. Fried, topped with mustard, and slid between buns, the resulting “slugburgers” had perfectly crisp exteriors that gave way to the juicy meat inside. Despite the name, they didn’t contain any slithery creatures. One theory says the snack’s moniker was a reference to counterfeit coins, known as “slugs,” implying that the burger was a sort of culinary impostor.

Today, line cooks tend to use cornmeal, soybean meal, or even crumbled sandwich bread instead of potato flour, and add toppings such as cheese, onions, and pickles. Try this recipe from the slugburger’s alleged hometown of Corinth, Mississippi, and swap in whatever starch you have. Be sure to open windows or turn on the ventilation hood above your stove while you’re frying.


Soviet Cookie-Crumb “Potatoes”

Food shortages in the former Soviet Union forced canteen managers and home bakers to employ some innovative upcycling techniques. This was especially true in industrial kitchens that had to carefully record how their supplies were being used. Since no crumb could go to waste, they were worked into new dishes, such as kartoshka.

Kartoshka means potato, but there are no tubers in these treats. Instead, they consist of cookie or cake crumbs that have been glued together with butter, sweetened condensed milk, and cocoa powder, then pressed into the shape of a little potato. If chefs had extra ingredients, they often added some rum, cognac, or flavored liqueur to the mix and topped it with nuts or frosting before throwing the treats into the fridge to set. Try this recipe or look for others that match the kind of crumbs you’re working with.


Salt-Rising Bread

With a recent shortage of yeast in grocery stores, there’s no better time to experiment with this recipe used by 19th-century Appalachian pioneers. Salt-rising bread does not require yeast to rise. Instead, bakers cultivate bacteria in their starter by leaving a mixture of boiled milk, cornmeal or wheat flour (and, sometimes, a sliced potato), sugar, and salt out overnight in a hot environment. The resulting microbes create hydrogen, which serves as the leavening agent. Thanks to its bacterial beginnings, some say the final, baked loaf smells of dirty feet. But others note a distinctly cheesy aroma along with a smooth texture. That unique quality has won the bread fans who work to preserve the disappearing culinary tradition.

One such fan was James Beard, whose recipe for salt-rising bread incorporates potato and appears in Beard on Bread. If you don’t have a potato, but do have cornmeal for your starter, try food-science writer Harold McGee's version. Making salt-rising bread can be unpredictable and challenging, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t turn out right on your first try.


Sugar Cream Pie

Part of the category of thrifty treats known as “desperation pies,” this simple dessert was popular in the Shaker and Amish communities of Indiana in the early 19th century. Desperation pies relied on non-seasonal ingredients that families almost always had in the pantry, and sugar cream pie was no different. Most kitchens stocked the key ingredients of sugar, cream, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, and flour. As a result, the pie was a reliable year-round fixture at church gatherings. Thanks to its easy recipe and milky-sweet flavor, it rose in popularity across the Hoosier state, eventually becoming its unofficial pie. The Cafe Indiana Cookbook offers a few different recipes, one of which swaps in a can of evaporated milk if you don’t have cream. If you need to whip up a crust, try this quick recipe.


Budae Jjigae

Food scarcity was rampant throughout and after the Korean War. To get cheap protein, some Koreans took to lining up outside U.S. army-base mess halls to purchase leftover food, which would otherwise be thrown out. The leftovers were often salty, heavily processed foods, including hot dogs, ham, Spam, canned beans, and processed sliced cheese. To this, home cooks added their own kimchi, garlic, vegetables, chili paste, and instant noodles. The resulting spicy, savory mixture came to be known as budae jjigae, or “army base stew.”

Though it has its roots in resourceful survival, budae jjigae has since grown into a beloved comfort food in South Korea. Many of its ingredients may already be leftovers lurking in your fridge or cabinet, just waiting to be used. Try My Korean Kitchen’s recipe for the stew.


The Peanut Butter and Mayo Sandwich

While many households in the United States have these two condiments on hand, rarely do they find themselves in the same sandwich. But Depression-era families found the fatty, protein-heavy combination to be a cheap way to fill up. Even in the decades after the economic crisis, fans stuck with the caloric combo. As late as the 1960s, a joint Skippy Peanut Butter and Hellmann’s Mayonnaise advertisement proposed new toppings to the beloved sandwich. Depending on your inventory, you can make a few of the ad’s options. Try the “Double Crunch,” which adds bacon and pickles; the “Apple Fandango,” with sliced apples and marmalade; or, if cabin fever’s really starting to get to you, the “Crazy Combo,” with salami, sliced eggs, and onions.


Anthill Cake

Like kartoshka, this Soviet-era treat combines crumbs into a towering confection that resembles an anthill (or, in Russian, muraveinik). Take any leftover bread or pastry—cookies, cake, shortbread, biscuits—crumble it all up, then bind the pieces together into a mound with a mixture of softened butter, sour cream, and boiled sweetened condensed milk. Some cooks mix in chocolate or crushed nuts for added texture. Try this no-bake recipe that takes 10 minutes.

To Save Madagascar’s Wildlife, an Entomologist Is Helping Revive a Bug-Based Cuisine


Local insect farms could save lemurs, baobabs, and more.

This story originally appeared on bioGraphic and is published here with permission.

As a young boy, Julien Jean Donehil would often go out searching for insects. For kids his age living on the dry west coast of Madagascar, the pastime doubles as both a game and a snack. Crickets and cicadas can be found amid the leaf litter, their high-pitched songs a dead giveaway. During the summer rainy season, locusts appear in abundance on the stems of corn and cassava plants. Always the tastiest, Donehil tells me, are rhinoceros beetles (Oryctes nasicornis), which clamber around the corrals of zebu cattle. To a young boy, the beetle’s thick exoskeleton and curled, weaponlike horns are like those of an action figure. Donehil and his friends would often stage mock battles, and then bring their quarry back home. There, after first removing the insects’ wings, they would roast the protein-packed treats in their mothers’ cooking fires.

Back then, in the early 2000s, Donehil and the other children in his village, Beroboka, never went hungry. There was always arable land to grow peanuts and maize, and grass for zebu to graze. A vast succulent woodland forest, unique in Madagascar and the world, surrounded the village, stretching for miles. Towered over by giant baobab trees (Adansonia grandidieri), it was home to creatures found nowhere else, like the Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae), the world’s smallest primate, and a giant rat (Hypogeomys antimena) that hops around like a kangaroo. Panther-like fossas (Cryptoprocta ferox) and hedgehog tenrecs (Echinops telfairi) and flying foxes (Pteropus rufus) frequently wandered past or flew over his home. “It was beautiful,” he recalls.

Donehil is now 18 and no longer forages for insects as younger boys still do. Beroboka is no longer the village it once was, either. Around eight years ago, Donehil says, the neighboring forest started to disappear. The destruction accelerated, through slash-and-burn practices, whereby land is cleared to make way for crops, the soil becomes degraded, and then more forest has to be destroyed. Around the same time, the human population was also swelling as migrants from Androy, the southernmost region of Madagascar, arrived. Fleeing a years-long drought and desperate, these pastoral people were often offered cash by powerful entities to plant corn on any piece of land they could set a match to.


Immigration and murky agrobusiness dealings have now laid waste to vast swaths of the unique, deciduous dry forest that blankets Madagascar’s west coast, driving its biodiversity toward the brink. Conservation groups have organized raids to catch illegal loggers and destroy their camps, but limited resources make the effort halting; plumes of grey smoke still mark the sky daily. The outlook is grim: It’s predicted that by 2025, the Menabe Antimena Protected Area, an 812-square-mile tract that includes villages like Beroboka, will have lost 80 percent of its forest cover.

“This region really has no hope unless something different happens,” says Brian Fisher, an entomologist at the California Academy of Sciences, as we climb into our S.U.V. to leave Beroboka. Out the window, the landscape has an almost post-apocalyptic quality: barren fields of charred earth stretch out to the horizon, interrupted only by sporadic fire-resistant baobab trees that stand like starved survivors. Fisher, who has been coming to Madagascar for 25 years to study ants, has witnessed the island lose a staggering amount of its unique biodiversity to the forces of population growth, deforestation, and malnutrition, as desperate locals turn to the forest for food. Recently, he launched an audacious plan to reverse the tide of destruction. Boosting a local tradition of consuming insects, he hopes, might offer a nutritious substitute for wild animals. For impoverished people, farmed insects could also provide a viable source of income.

Fisher has had some initial success in the jungles of eastern Madagascar, where a pilot project to boost the numbers of native, edible insects seems to have reduced pressure on lemurs and other hunted animals. But the destruction he now sees along the island’s west coast is on a different scale. “I feel like I’m absorbing the severity of the situation here,” he says. But if insect farming can work here, he figures, he can make it work anywhere.


In the popular imagination, Madagascar exists as a cartoon version of itself, a land of staggering biological richness. The world’s oldest and fourth largest island, it was once wedged between Africa and India, part of the supercontinent Gondwana, an ancient landmass that began to fragment some 180 million years ago. Madagascar then splintered off with India and drifted northeastward, until around 80 million years ago, it was left behind as India continued its march toward the collision with Asia that would form the Himalayas. This geological history of separation, as well as the island’s varied topography and climates—ranging from tropical mountain valleys to plateaus to coastline to arid deserts—allowed life to evolve, and diversify, in isolated pockets. Eighty-five percent of Madagascar’s plants, nearly all of its reptiles, and half of its birds exist nowhere else. When humans first arrived some 10,000 years ago, they’d have found an island containing five percent of the world’s biodiversity, including lemurs the size of gorillas and a flightless elephant bird that stood more than nine feet tall.

Those megafauna have since gone extinct, but for biologists like Fisher, Madagascar remains a treasure trove. “You never know what you’re going to find until you get to a patch of forest,” he says. “And every time you get to a new patch, you always find something unique there.” Little was known about Madagascar’s ants when Fisher first began studying them in 1993 as a PhD student. His often swashbuckling fieldwork has led him to some of the island’s most remote corners, where he’s been able to describe more than 450 new species of ants. Over time, though, Fisher encountered a disturbing pattern. “You go back to an area where you were just three years earlier and discovered something dramatically new, and find the whole forest is gone,” he says. “Not just degraded. It’s leveled—there’s not a tree left on the mountain. And you’re like, 'Oh, there goes that species.' After a while, it is kind of shocking. You wonder, how many times that’s happening to forest we haven’t even been to yet.”

It’s been happening at an astonishing pace. Since the early 1950s, deforestation has reduced Madagascar’s forest cover by nearly half. In 2018, the island lost a higher proportion of its primary rainforest than any other tropical country, a consequence of slash-and-burn agriculture, as well as pockets of sapphire and nickel mining. The familiar threats of climate change, invasive species, overharvesting, and habitat loss and fragmentation have also exacted a heavy toll: Madagascar’s endemic lemurs are now the most threatened group of primates on Earth, and nearly all of its species (94 percent) are at risk of extinction because of habitat loss and unsustainable hunting.


In 2013, Fisher caught wind of an influential report published by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), which put forward a provocative approach to addressing the world’s looming environmental and humanitarian crises. By 2050, the report stated, 9 billion people will inhabit the planet. To meet this future demand, food production would need to almost double from its current rate. Farmland is scarce, and continuing to expand it is neither viable nor sustainable. Oceans are already overfished. Climate change, and related water shortages, will likely impact agriculture dramatically—and there are already nearly 1 billion chronically hungry people worldwide. To meet these challenges, the FAO report concluded, “we need to find new ways of growing food.”

Edible insects, it argued, present a sensible solution. More than 1,900 different species of insects are already consumed worldwide, mostly across Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Insects are made up of as much as 65 percent protein; studies have found that grasshoppers, crickets, and mealworms contain significantly higher sources of minerals such as iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium than sirloin does. Pound for pound, insects require less land, less water, and less feed than other animals. And they also produce less waste than livestock, including fewer greenhouse gases.

It’s not hard to see Madagascar as a microcosm of the world that the FAO envisions. The country ranks in the bottom 15 percent of the UN’s Human Development Index, and is one of the least food-secure nations in the world. More than 90 percent of Madagascar’s population lives below the international poverty line, and it is one of the few countries where the rate is increasing. Madagascar, as a whole, has the world’s fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition: Almost half of all Malagasy children under five are malnourished. That constant, desperate need for food is what leads people into the forest to hunt for bushmeat, a factor widely recognized as a major contributor to global biodiversity loss.

As he crisscrossed the island documenting ants, Fisher began to wonder whether he was devoting his time wisely. “All of this work, and I have saved not a single tree in Madagascar,” he tells me. “And if I continue doing this, pretty soon I’ll just be documenting what was once in Madagascar. So, I challenged myself—it’s time not to be on the sidelines. What could I possibly do to participate in conservation?”


Fisher knew that the Malagasy ate insects—he’d seen them sold at local markets across the island. As he dug deeper, he read that as early as 1617, missionaries and other visitors to Madagascar attested to the natives’ taste for Orthoptera—the classification that includes grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, and katydids. Periodic locust outbreaks might devastate a crop, but could also provide a valuable source of nutrition, especially between harvests. A preparation that involved soaking dried locusts for half an hour in saltwater and then frying them in fat “appeared on the tables of princes.” It’s said that Queen Ranavalona II, who reigned Madagascar in the 19th century, frequently dispatched female servants to the countryside to collect locusts for her.

Fisher assembled a working group, dubbed Insects and People of the Southwest Indian Ocean (IPSIO), comprised of insect researchers and regional conservation and humanitarian organizations. The group’s aim was to explore ways to leverage Madagascar’s edible-insect tradition as a way of conserving its biodiversity. Although industry groups estimate edible insects to be a 600-million-dollar business worldwide, most are used in pet food, livestock feed, and fish feed for aquaculture.

With this new objective in mind, Fisher reached out to Entomo Farms, North America’s largest producer of human-grade insects, based in Ontario. The company’s ground cricket powders supply a burgeoning market of insect-based protein bars, smoothies, chips, crackers, pasta, hot dogs, and pet treats. Entomo’s co-founder, Darren Goldin, considered Fisher’s idea a worthy “passion project,” he tells me, and helped design a production facility in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital.

Crickets, it turns out, are an exemplary food to farm. They grow quickly—six weeks to full maturity—and thrive in confined spaces. They require few inputs—a bit of drinking water and grain feed is all—and as cold-blooded creatures, they don’t expend energy regulating their core temperature, as most farm animals do; half of what a chicken eats goes toward warming its body. A recent study even suggests that in addition to high protein levels, crickets contain chitin and other fibers that may improve gut health, as well as reduce systemic inflammation. There are ancillary agriculture benefits, too: Dry cricket frass (poop), a byproduct, is a useful fertilizer.

“In the end, nobody cares that it’s cricket powder,” Fisher said recently. “They eat it because it tastes good.” He was speaking one afternoon last November to a group of NGOs with food assistance programs in Madagascar, showing them his modest production facility, Valala Farms. The operation occupies part of the three-story insect research center that Fisher established 15 years ago on a hilly plot above the city’s zoo and botanical gardens. (There are plans to break ground on an expansive, 23,000-square-foot facility later this year on adjacent land donated to him by the country’s education ministry.)

On this occasion, the young Malagasy staff had prepared a spread of cricket hors d’oeuvres: skewers of honey-roasted whole insects, a yogurt dip flecked with ground powder. Fisher first led the visitors into a humid room that sounded discomfitingly like a plague—the din of 200,000 chirping crickets confined inside two rows of mesh-covered enclosures grouped by life stage.

The insects skittered across stacks of egg crates meant to provide them ample surface area and airflow, occasionally gathering at small trays of water and chicken feed. Once they reach maturity and mate, the females use a pair of barbed ovipositors to lay their eggs into moist cotton balls (meant to mimic sand). The impregnated cotton then gets transplanted to a separate incubation room, kept at 31 degrees Celsius (88 degrees Fahrenheit), and the mature adults are euthanized by carbon dioxide and collected. In an adjacent kitchen, the “harvested” crickets are washed, ground into a moist slurry using a meat grinder, dehydrated on baking sheets, and milled into a fine brown powder that smells something like roasted sunflower seeds.


With their deep pockets and wide reach across the country, Fisher views humanitarian organizations as the primary customers for cricket powder. A successful pilot project with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) demonstrated its potential to tackle malnutrition. CRS introduced cricket powder to elementary and middle school children in Antananarivo through a school lunch program, where it was sprinkled on top of traditional Malagasy meals like rice and beans. (Fisher’s team has also conducted studies in Antananarivo’s schools to gauge student perceptions of eating insects.) In the drought-stricken region of Androy, Madagascar’s impoverished south, Catholic sisters there run a tuberculosis clinic and fed the powder with meals to patients suffering from appetite and weight loss as a consequence of their infections. After just two weeks, all of the patients had gained weight, a critical factor in recovery; within the first three weeks, one had added more than five pounds. “We’re super excited about this work,” CRS’s Tanja Englberger tells me. “When they don’t add it, [patients] ask, ‘Where is the cricket powder?” CRS is now extending the project to another 10 clinics across Madagascar, and may launch a series of nutritional studies.

To help reverse the loss of Madagascar’s biodiversity though, Fisher needs to bring the project closer to critical areas. A few years ago on an Air France flight from Paris to Antananarivo—the type of scene where a surprising amount of networking occurs—he struck up a conversation with Cortni Borgerson, an anthropologist at New Jersey’s Montclair State University. For 15 years, Borgerson has looked at subsistence hunting practices in Madagascar, particularly around Masoala National Park, a species-rich rainforest on the eastern coast. The largest of the country’s protected areas, Masoala is seen as a likely last stronghold of intact habitat. Among people living there, poverty is nearly universal, higher than national averages. One-quarter of the population is anemic. Borgerson’s surveys have found that as much as 75 percent of all meat eaten in some communities comes from forest animals. Child malnutrition rates are higher in households that hunt lemurs, suggesting that when they have little else to eat, families turn to bushmeat.

During the rainy season, natives of the Masoala Peninsula take delight in an endemic Fulgorid planthopper (Zanna madagascariensis, or “sakondry” in Malagasy) that feeds on the sap of wild lima beans and related plants. Locals pick them off in large clusters like berries, rinse them twice, and fry the fatty insect whole without even the need for oil. The taste is delicious, Borgerson says—like bacon. She’d long known of this food practice, and so had Fisher: He’d first photographed sakondry 20 years earlier in the island’s western dry forests. But how long did the insects live? What did they eat? When do females lay eggs? Science didn’t have answers at the time, but Borgerson and Fisher felt the sakondry held great promise for addressing regional nutritional deficiencies and the interrelated conservation issues. They’ve received a three-year grant from IUCN’s Save Our Species initiative to test sakondry farming methods.

Their pilot project is set in six of the Masoala’s most remote jungle communities, where wildlife makes up a large proportion of the diet. “Find the last village on the map, and we are like four days beyond that,” Borgerson says. The communities range from 10 to 200 households; participation is voluntary. The researchers first distributed bean plant seeds, and established a sharing program. Within the first three months, one community grew around 500 lima bean plants. “It just took off,” Borgerson tells me. There are now 4,200 plants growing across all test sites—more food for the humans, and an abundance of hosts for sakondry. (The insects drink the sap-like phloem of the plant without significantly impacting bean production.) It’s a win-win, Borgerson says, “because then you get both products.” At last estimate, 52,000 individual sakondry had taken up residence, and insect consumption has increased by 400 percent of what it had been before the project began. Borgerson and Fisher’s aim had been to produce enough insect meat to replace lemur meat within three years, a goal they reached within the first eight months of the project. “It went way better than expected,” Borgerson says. “And I get at least eight Facebook messages from random communities being like, ‘Hey, when are you going to come bring sakondry here?’”

Still, crucial questions remain. Most importantly, is it actually changing any behavior? Preliminary results show that the farming has significantly positively affected child nutrition, food security, and the sustainability of hunting, according to Borgenson. There’s now simply more food, she says, available at the times when people might typically hunt. Borgerson notes that the project is having the greatest impact on women and children, who’ve been seen grabbing sakondry by the fistful. In theory, as their nutrition improves, it ought to give men of the household fewer incentives to hunt lemurs.


To reach the Menabe Antimena protected area, a patchwork of dry forest and mangrove reserves on Madagascar’s west coast, I flew with Fisher one hour from Antananarivo to the seaside town of Morondova, and then drove another two hours north by car along a rutted, red-sand road. The route passed by the Avenue of the Baobabs, a photogenic grove of trees that is among the island’s top tourist attractions. We passed boys sitting atop zebu carts loaded with sacks of rice and peanuts, and villages where women squatted in the shade, selling corn. Crammed in the back seat was Entomo’s Darren Goldin and the company’s farm manager, Aran Hinton, there to help Fisher evaluate the feasibility of establishing a small-scale farm project in a local village. Also with us was Sylvain Hugel, a specialist in crickets who would be able to determine which species might work best. All had joined Fisher field expeditions before. “He’s the most experienced field guy I’ve ever met,” Hugel tells me. “The amount of stories he could tell you about problems in the field—it’s just crazy, you could write a book.”

These stories include surviving all manner of tropical diseases, from malaria (“a recurring theme in my life,” Fisher says) to leishmaniasis, which bore a hole in his leg, and loiasis, in which worms squiggled across his eyeballs. Fisher once narrowly escaped an armed group in the Central African Republic, and was forced to improvise in the Congolese jungle after local warriors his team had hired as guides disappeared with their tents and food. Vehicle breakdowns, equipment malfunctions, roadblocks, and getting lost were familiar occupational hazards. By comparison, this trip was a cakewalk. We planned to sleep in beds that night.

We turned off the road at the entrance to Kirindy Forest, a privately managed reserve with a small research center and tourist bungalows. The dry deciduous forest there is home to seven species of lemur as well as the fossa, Madagascar’s largest predator; one wandered by the reception desk not long after we arrived. Skinks and lizards rustled the dried leaves lining the footpaths between bungalows. As night fell, Hugel grabbed his headlamp and a butterfly net, and with the guys from Entomo Farms, set out to collect specimens.

Crickets reveal themselves by their songs, unique to each species. Males produce sound by rubbing the serrated edge of one forewing against the sharp-edged bottom of the other, a movement known as stridulation. These chirps are meant to attract mature females that pick up the sound through timpana membranes on their forelegs. The females seem to find the calls irresistible. Human cultures do, too. Across Asia, crickets have long been kept as pets, and in China, where the insect symbolizes luck and prosperity, imperial concubines are said to have placed crickets in small gold cages on their bedside to delight in their songs.


“There are many species here,” Hugel remarked, noting a variety of calls. He crouched down above the leaf litter in one patch, hovering the net in his hand. With one swift motion, he slammed the hoop flat against the ground, entrapping a cricket. He then placed the specimen inside a vial along with some leafy matter, which he says relaxes them. Any candidate for potential farming must be native to the area, Hugel explained—in part so as not to disturb the native ecology should any escape. But it was also important to select a species that could be reared year-round, so he looked for both juveniles and adults of a single species as evidence that their life cycle would span across rainy and dry seasons.

Fisher had arranged with a local USAID-funded NGO project, Mikajy, for the team to be shown three villages that stood just outside the protected forest. Each were identified as potential sites to introduce cricket farming. Over a breakfast of rice porridge and French bread the next morning, Fisher explained some of the challenges the team faced. “Community work is far more complicated than commercial business models,” he says. “There’s not one model that can be easily applied from one village to the next. And there’s a 100-percent resistance to change. First, we have to identify the issues of concern for that village. We also have to understand its structure. Is it an immigrant village, or a traditional village? Do they farm, and if so, where? If they don’t farm at all, that means they’re going into the forest.”

In the first village, Kirindy, the team met with a thin, shirtless man in his 30s, said to be its chief, outside a home constructed with vertical tree trunks and thatched roofing. As a couple dozen family members gathered around—men on one side, women and toddlers on the other—Fisher began asking questions through a translator, in French. What year did they arrive? What crops did they grow? The picture that emerged was bleak: The surrounding land, slashed and burned to plant crops, now barely supported cassava, corn, yam and black-eyed peas. Their zebu cattle herd had been reduced to 10 by thieves who had taken the rest.

Fisher asked whether the people of the village consumed insects, a notion the chief seemed to find laughable. Even after Fisher described the insect’s nutritional value, passing around a specimen Hugel had collected the previous night, the chief insisted that the community would have no interest in growing crickets. He mentioned taboos around certain insects. (Fisher had heard of these: Some Malagasy confuse crickets for cockroaches, which they associate with filth; and superstitions abound, such as a village in eastern Madagascar where they referred to a cricket species as “lost child” based on lore of unknown origin.) One of the women seated across the compound interjected: Perhaps, she suggested, crickets could fatten up their chickens. “Women are always thinking about the future,” Hugel whispers to me. The chief’s resistance puzzled Fisher. He’d mentioned that his family migrated to the area from the south—had they lost an edible-insect tradition along the way? Eventually, Fisher wrapped up the meeting. As we headed back to the car, a group of youth, who’d overheard the conversation, ran up to us and enthusiastically presented tin containers filled with rhinoceros beetles.

“I’ve never been presented with such a challenge,” Fisher says as he surveys the parched and barren red earth that surrounded the chief’s cluster of houses. A mere half-mile away, safeguarded for now, the Kirindy Forest stood as a reminder of the landscape Fisher remembered from a field trip 15 years earlier. “How do you stop this? The scale of the problem is far more dire than I’d imagined. ‘Fifty percent deforested’ is hard to imagine until you come down here. And it was all happening while I was traveling across Madagascar, collecting ants.”


A 20-minute drive up the road, in Beroboka, Fisher’s team met with an older, wiry man named Gerome Radafy, the village schoolteacher. Radafy rattled off the insects that local people there consumed, a list that included grasshoppers, cicadas, and crickets. He then asked his niece, a girl of around 10, to prepare us a snack of rhinoceros beetle. After washing the insects and removing their wings, she then fried the lot in a pot of oil, adding in a pinch of salt. Radafy told Fisher that he wasn’t opposed to cultivating crickets, but thought the idea better for feeding chickens than humans. (“We’re not completely against it, but it’s not what I would prefer to do,” Fisher interprets later.)

Fisher began to wonder whether he’d been too idealistic. “We shouldn’t kid ourselves,” he says that evening. “The problems are so severe here, we must try some radical approaches.” Insect farming could be considered a radical approach. But to stanch deforestation and bushmeat consumption there, Fisher thought, would require large-scale facilities in every village across the region, where malnutrition had become endemic. They’d have to produce enough cricket powder to feed every child, and make it available to everyone else at a reduced cost. This looked like a massive aid program. And that was just one piece of the puzzle, Fisher says. “There’s no reason to think we can have an impact on deforestation if they’re not enforcing deforestation. Enforcement has to happen.”

Lambokely, a dusty village the team visited the following afternoon, seemed to embody the problems facing Madagascar’s beleaguered western dry forests. According to news reports, in 2001 Lambokely’s population numbered 64 people; by 2018, that number had swelled to around 20,000 due to immigration from Androy.


“Do you worry about your future?” Fisher asked a group of a few dozen villagers that had congregated in the shade of a large kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra). Speaking for the chief, who sat nearby with other elders, a handsome man wearing a plaid shirt and sarong, named Elias, told a familiar story: poor soil, cattle thefts. They’d tried raising chickens and ducks, with marginal success. Yes, they ate insects— various kinds, including the sakondry, in abundance during the rainy season. Their elders who came from southern Madagascar, he said, used to boil locusts and pound them into a dry powder for use during lean times. When Fisher heard this, he perked up. “They know!” he said.

Fisher asked whether they’d be interested in rearing an insect to make into a powder, describing his facility in Antananarivo. He presented the vial containing the cricket sample. “Is it food?” someone asked. Fisher explained how crickets differ from locusts, and passed around lemon-lime flavored protein bars made by a Canadian brand, Crickstart, that uses Entomo Farms’s cricket powder.

At that point, the conversation turned—now the villagers began to pitch themselves as a potential farming site. “You can tell we have highly educated youth,” a man replied after Fisher raised the topic of staffing. Here were a people with a history of eating insects, and a genuine enthusiasm for the project. Fisher was encouraged. Before getting up to leave, he declared, “We’re ready to start working with you as soon as we can.”

The villagers clapped. Elias replied, “We’re ready, too.”

“I’m feeling positive about working here,” Fisher said as we drove away. “It would be a great collaboration. And what we learn here could be applied across the entire west. We could first start with the cricket, to make powder, but also start developing a technique for sakondry.” He looked out the window at the barren fields. “These people are screwed unless something different happens. Soon it’ll be a famine-relief effort.”


After landing back in Antananarivo, we drove up the city’s twisted, traffic-choked streets to the hilltop grounds of a new photography museum and its adjacent café, the Café Du Musee. A wraparound terrace offered a sweeping view of Madagascar’s congested capital, a riot of colorful houses and tin roofs. Part of Fisher’s strategy of revitalizing the country’s edible-insect culture involves introducing cricket product to high-end chefs for use as a novelty ingredient. The café’s chef, Johary Mahaleo, who had a reputation for inventive uses of local chocolate—the menu featured dishes like homemade foie gras with cocoa truffle and duck breast in chocolate sauce—had visited Fisher’s facility earlier in the week and taken a whiff of the cricket powder. “Has a bit of an algae scent,” he’d told me. “Plenty of room to experiment.”

Mahaleo presented us with a few appetizers to taste: croquettes topped with a dollop of lemon puree and goat cheese whipped with cricket powder; a fromage blanc speckled brown from ground crickets. They tasted delicious; it was difficult to detect any of their crickety-ness. Mahaleo seemed pleased; cricket-infused dishes, he thought, could be something he becomes known for—perhaps a bit of a marketing ploy, too. A little further up the hill, I noted, stood the former royal palace, now a museum, where the Queen is said to have once enjoyed locusts sprinkled over her food. Madagascar’s edible-insect tradition may date back centuries, but Mahaleo thought he was on to something new. Another story in the island’s unique evolution, you could say.

Is Saint Corona a Guardian Against Epidemics?


Well, she might be now, at least.

Aachen Cathedral in western Germany may be able to claim a special spiritual connection with the global COVID-19/coronavirus crisis: The cathedral, one of Europe’s oldest, is said to house the relics of Saint Corona herself. What’s more, Saint Corona is believed to be the patron saint of protection against plague—depending who you ask, that is.

The cathedral, in fact, had begun renewing its focus on Saint Corona more than a year ago, well before the novel virus had emerged as a public health threat. Originally, Aachen Cathedral had planned to put the saint’s golden shrine on public view in the summer of 2020, as part of an exhibit on goldsmithery. Ironically, at a time when believers might be more drawn to Saint Corona than ever, the cathedral may have to postpone the exhibit if the crisis has not abated by summer.

Though public interest in Saint Corona has perked up due to the coronavirus, little is ultimately known about her life—or, for that matter, her remains. According to Catholic Online, it’s believed that she lived during the second century, in Roman-occupied Syria, where Christianity was outlawed. When a Roman soldier named Victor was tortured after the discovery of his secret Christian faith, Corona decided to publicly profess her Christianity in an act of solidarity. In this telling, the Roman judge Sebastian ultimately had both of them executed. Catholic Online suggests that their remains may lie in Anzù, in northern Italy, at the 11th-century Basilica Sanctuary of Saints Victor and Corona (not far from one of the areas hit hardest by the pandemic).


Candida Moss, a theologian at the University of Birmingham, in England, recently tweeted that Saint Corona’s remains are, indeed, in Anzù, rather than Aachen—assuming that Saint Corona had ever lived in the first place. In an email, Moss elaborates on the evidence suggesting Corona is an invented figure: The earliest records mentioning her emerged hundreds of years after her purported death, and the Roman legal system described in her story seems rather anachronistic.

Furthermore, according to Moss, Saint Corona is not one of the historic patron saints of infectious disease, contrary to word that has been spreading in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. Indeed, according to Catholic Online, “Corona is invoked in connection with superstitions involving money, such as gambling or treasure hunting.” Other traditions hold that Saint Corona is the protector of lumberjacks, since she was martyred while tied to two trees.

Even if these views of Saint Corona have dominated historically, Moss says it’s possible that different groups have viewed the saint in different ways. “The veneration of saints is a very regional affair,” Moss told Artnet. For example, she cites Saint Edmund—another patron saint against plague—who didn’t become associated with disease until 700 years after his death. The reason, Moss says, was an outbreak of plague in the French city of Toulouse, where Edmund’s relics were held, that caused the city’s residents to pray to him for protection.


Meanwhile, a similarly local understanding of Saint Corona seems to have emerged in the town of Kirchberg am Wechsel, in eastern Austria—home to its own Parish Church of St. Corona (Pfarrkirche St. Corona). A version of the church's website, captured by the Wayback Machine in 2017 (long before COVID-19), states that “Holy Corona serves as an advocate for requests for steadfastness in faith, for requests against storms and crop failures, for averting epidemics and for requests for help in the small needs of everyday life.” Daniela Lövenich, a spokeswoman for the Aachen Cathedral, also told Artnet that Saint Corona’s association with plague “probably” comes from Kirchberg am Wechsel, not from Aachen or Anzù.

The Pfarrkirche also attempts to clarify some of the confusion surrounding Saint Corona’s remains and their whereabouts. They are, according to the church, divided between Italy and Aachen, where Holy Roman Emperor Otto III delivered some of the relics in 997. Charlemagne is also buried at Aachen Cathedral, a historic coronation site for German kings and queens. (The Pfarrkirche was built much later, in the 17th century, on the site of a statue of Saint Corona that was found in a tree—possibly placed there by the area’s lumberjacks.)

So all along, Saint Corona may have only been associated with disease in one small Austrian town, due to a statue in a tree and a specific confluence of local historical events. With the help of a new disease that takes her name—not to mention the internet—Saint Corona may now well become an international symbol of protection from disease. This is how it’s happened, after all, all the way back to Saint Edmund and beyond.

“Saintly traditions have always grown and developed over time as people call upon local saints for assistance in situations of crisis,” Moss wrote in an email, even if that means the saints already associated with an issue are neglected. (In the case of epidemic, that could be Edmund, Barbara, Aloysius Gonzaga, and Roch). Still, she wrote, it’s “surely a good thing” if people can now find comfort in Saint Corona—“[a]s long as they also self-isolate and don’t think Saint Corona can protect them.”

Let Your Mind Wander With These Gloriously Detailed Maps


Satisfy your urge to roam and while away some time with these picks from cartographic collectors, curators, and scholars.

If you’re spending most of your time at home, you’re probably looking out at the same landscape day after day. It’s always changing in small ways, of course—fresh buds appear on branches, then burst with life; a sky might be smudged one day, and cloudless the next—but the streets and the buildings on it remain the same.

That may be an invitation to look closer, and become acquainted with the plant and animal neighbors that share your block. Or it might stoke the type of wanderlust that has you aching for new vistas, whether that’s half a world away or just the next town over.

One way you can scratch that itch to roam is by journeying through digital map collections.

Maps can help viewers get their bearings and the lay of the land, or transport them into a realm of pure fantasy. A viewer might find a quiet thrill in poring over a map of a place they already know, or divert themselves by looking at a map that’s “just fun and complex, with lots of things going on,” says Matthew Edney, a scholar of cartography at the University of Southern Maine. “And it’s easier to get lost within a detailed map of [a] place—one that shows features at a human scale, to which we can relate, so that we can imagine being inside the landscape.”

Persuasive maps—ones that aren’t designed as navigation aides, but rather to communicate ideas and influence beliefs—also give viewers a lot to chew on when it comes to symbols, colors, and fonts, among other things.

“You can spend a lot of time looking at a map and asking yourself, ‘What was the mapmaker trying to accomplish, how did they do it, and how well was it done?” says PJ Mode, a map aficionado whose collection is accessible through Cornell University.

Atlas Obscura recently asked Mode, Edney, and other collectors and curators to share some maps that might distract and delight you, wherever you are.

Dive into details


“The Wonderground Map of London”

This jam-packed pictorial map from 1927 highlights attractions that were accessible from various Underground stations (marked by little cabin-like structures). London is Edney’s home city, and where he went to college. But even if you’re not an Anglophile, you could still happily spend a chunk of time zooming in on the dense details.


“The Mystery Map of Assinine Atoll”

This one, which dates to 1977, feels like a cartographic fever dream. It’s “pure and simple fascination—a surreal map from the drugged-out 1970s,” Edney says. Linger at “Turkey Furky’s Reptile Rodeo,” “The Place Where Balloons Won’t Bust,” or “Barnacle Maud’s Shark Reserve.” And rejoice that you’re not hunkering down on “Oilly Beach.”


“France kilométrique: carte indiquant les distances kilométriques sur tous les réseaux de chemins de fer” [“France in kilometers: Map showing the kilometric distance on all railway networks”]

You could spend several hours following the winding routes of France’s railways, as they existed in 1906. Go ahead and imagine the views out the windows, and then look out your own.


“Paris De Plus En Plus Grand! Lutece. Une Fois Encore, Fait Craquer Son Corset.” [“Paris Bigger and Bigger! Lutece. Once Again, Bursts Its Corset.”]

This satirical map by Henri Avelot, which appeared in La Vie Parisienne in November 1924, shows the expanding limits of the city over time, marking the bounds of contemporary Paris against those during the eras of Kings Philippe Auguste, Charles V, Louis XIII, and Louis XVI. There’s a lot of merriment, Mode points out, with drinking and dancing, but a somber note as well—groups of approaching “outsiders,” welcome or not. With maps that make an argument, a close look can reveal the subtle or covert messages that a mapmaker was trying to convey.

Lose yourself in a dreamy landscape


“Sunapee Lake, New Hampshire”

This look over the New Hampshire landscape of 1905 is lush and alluring. The map was produced by the George H. Walker Co., which depicted spots across the state that were attracting the attention of middle-class tourists. Looking at it “makes you want to walk, fly, and swim all at once,” writes Garrett Dash Nelson, curator of maps and director of geographic scholarship at the Boston Public Library’s Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center, in an email.


“‘Playland,’ Rye Beach: Westchester County Park System, Westchester County, New York”

Drop into this alluring view of Rye Beach, published by New York’s Westchester County Park Commission in 1927, and savor the sailboat-specked water and crowded shore, long before social distancing swept visitors from beaches and boardwalks. “The aerial view was especially popular at that time,” says Ian Fowler, maps curator at the New York Public Library. “And as advances in lithography progressed, they got larger and more detailed.” This map was intended to lure visitors to the shore, Fowler says, so it’s “kind of a cross between schematic and poster,” showing off both the beauty of the environment and all the attractions that dot it.


“Panorama of the New York Zoological Park”

Thick with handsome trees, this 1913 map of the New York Zoo is plenty appealing from a distance. But it really rewards close looking. Zoom way in to see grazing reindeer, ranging bison, and wading elk, as well as tiny visitors drifting around the complex. Like the previous entry, this map “plays on the idea of being at once an escape from the larger city but also connected to it,” Fowler says. “Thus the roadways you can see around the borders.”

A Chinese Fishing Village Regains Its Rightful Place in California History


A shipwreck brought Chinese immigrants to the Monterey area. Discrimination forced them to start over.

When Gerry Low-Sabado first visited Whalers Cabin in the 1990s, shortly after it became a cultural history museum, she had no idea that she was a direct descendant of the Chinese fishermen who had built it. Located in Point Lobos, a scenic coastal reserve just south of Monterey, California, the 150-year-old shack held artifacts from the fishing and whaling clans that inhabited the reserve through the turn of the 20th century: first the Chinese, then the Japanese and Portuguese.

At the time, Low-Sabado was only vaguely familiar with the state’s immigrant fishing history. But a jolt of recognition ran through her when she saw a black-and-white photograph of an elderly Chinese woman. She didn’t know who the woman was, but the house in the background looked like her mother’s childhood home, about 8 miles away in the Cannery Row neighborhood of Monterey. After asking her relatives, Low-Sabado learned that her aunt, Mary Chin Lee, had taken the photo in the 1920s, and that the woman’s name is Quock Mui.

For Low-Sabado and her siblings, the discovery uphended every notion they’d held about their identity. She grew up thinking she was just like white children she knew, and shared their obsession with the Beatles and the Beach Boys. “I couldn't believe I grew up not knowing who my great-grandparents were," she says.


Around the same time, the historian Sandy Lydon was interviewing descendants for the second edition of Chinese Gold, his book on 19th-century Chinese history in Monterey Bay. Through the museum, he found Lee and her extended family, including Low-Sabado. Meeting them, he says, changed everything. With their help, he was able to identify old photographs, piece together family lines, and determine that the Quock matriarch was actually the first Chinese girl born in Point Lobos, in 1859. “Mary was our window,” Lydon says. “It’s through her that Gerry rediscovered her roots.”

When Low-Sabado retired after 26 years as a childcare worker, she realized that her newfound family history could give her a new mission. "I felt that I had to try and give a face to their struggles, hopes, and successes,” she says. She launched a campaign, starting in the cabin: Quock’s photo had been misattributed, and Low-Sabado spent years convincing museum and park staff to inscribe her aunt’s name underneath. “That name you see is not just a name,” she says. “That’s five years of my struggle.”

On a recent afternoon in February, Low-Sabado, now 70, walks down a narrow, oak-lined path toward Whalers Cabin. She’s dressed in a traditional red tang suit and a pair of UGG boots. In a small handbag, she’s packed a stack of business cards—a constant companion on her visits to Point Lobos. Her aim is not to promote herself, she says, but to tell the story of California through her ancestors.

In 1851, a group of indigent Chinese fishermen from the Pearl River Delta were shipwrecked on Whalers Cove, a rocky beach surrounded by low-lying trees. As some of California’s earliest Chinese immigrants, they saw potential in the cove’s rich marine habitats and stayed to establish the first Chinese fishing village in the state.


For Low-Sabado, a fifth-generation descendant of those voyagers, the windswept cypresses and sculptural bluffs of Point Lobos are an ancestral home. Her eyes light up as she sees a couple by the cabin. “You see the photo?” she asks them, pointing at a framed, black-and-white portrait on the wall of an elderly woman. “I’m her great-granddaughter!”

Quock, she tells them with a wide smile, spoke five languages and became the liaison between different ethnic groups, adopting the nickname Spanish Mary. After a 15-minute primer on her great-grandmother’s life, she retrieves a card from her bag and encourages the couple to read more online.

In the 1870s, the Quock clan relocated from Point Lobos to Point Alones, in Pacific Grove—then the largest, most diverse Chinese settlement in the country, with over 500 residents. (Today, it’s occupied by one of Stanford’s research labs, the Hopkins Marine Station.) Point Alones was home to more families than any other Chinatown in California, including San Francisco, according to U.S. Census records. Day and night, clans like the Quocks chased bounties of the Pacific in flat-bottomed Chinese sampan boats. Within 20 years, they developed the state’s commercial fishing industry, annually exporting millions of pounds of abalone, shrimp, and squid.


Quickly, though, their success inspired envy and anger from non-Chinese residents and elected officials, according to Lydon’s research and newspaper accounts. Competitors reportedly cut the nets of Chinese fishermen and barred them from fishing during the day. These local incidents mirrored nationwide trends: In 1882, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, blocking immigration by an entire ethnic group. Countless Chinese immigrants, including some with ties to Point Alones, were detained or deported at Angel Island, just a hundred miles north in San Francisco Bay.

Then, in 1906, a suspicious fire decimated the village, driving out its inhabitants and burying their legacy. “Hundreds of spectators cheered the fire as it roared through Chinatown,” Lydon wrote in Chinese Gold. “Many of the white spectators joined in looting. Vandals broke into stores and dwellings not touched by fire and carted contents away.”

Low-Sabado believes that Chinese-American elders kept mum about their roots in part because of the racism they endured. When she was growing up, decades after the incident, her grandparents distanced themselves and their children from their Chinese heritage. “I think they were just afraid,” Low-Sabado says. Some may have feared that they would be sent back to China.


In 2007, Bryn Williams, then a Stanford archaeologist based at the Hopkins Marine Station, invited Low-Sabado and other descendants to excavate the site for remnants of the village. “The history of immigration is an incredibly important part of US history,” Williams says. “The perspectives that descendants like Gerry can bring builds valuable knowledge of the past.” Low-Sabado helped salvage thousands of ceramic shards, a shoe, a mostly intact Chinese teacup, and fish vertebrae. It amazed her that relics of her ancestors’ lives still drifted ashore more than a century after the fire.

During the dig, Low-Sabado discovered that her grandfather, Quock Tuck Lee, was one of the last villagers to leave. In fact, he even tried to rebuild his home before the landowner, the Pacific Improvement Company, forced him out. “It reminded me that my family’s been here longer than people who feel they have a right to discriminate against us,” she says.

Inspired by her grandfather, she spent the next seven years persuading city officials and Stanford University to expedite a long-stalled project: a plaque that commemorates the contributions of Point Alones residents. She rallied support from a host of prominent social justice organizations, including the ACLU of Monterey County and the National Coalition Building Institute. In 2014, a plaque was finally unveiled on a boulder near Hopkins, featuring a photograph and short biography of her grandfather. “It’s my biggest accomplishment,” she says, without hesitation. Sandy Lydon, the historian, was at the unveiling ceremony. “Gerry put Point Alones on the map, literally,” he says.

In 1924, 18 years after the fire, the Quock family bought a house on Cannery Row in Monterey, where they lived among Italian sardine handlers. A replica of Spanish Mary’s photograph now hangs in Studio Cafe, a boutique tea and coffee shop that stands there today. (It was once called Quock Mui Tea Room.)

Low-Sabado orders an organic jasmine tea and sits in the courtyard. Taking a sip, she looks pensively around at the place where three generations of her family lived. In raising awareness about their existence, she admits, she sometimes feels a bit like a tattletale. “I’m always wondering, ‘Who am I to tell this story if my ancestors didn’t?’” she says. “It’s a real push-pull for me.”

But a sense of duty outweighs her uncertainty. She and Lydon both describe the accidental discovery of the photograph—and the subsequent connections—as fortunate, even fated. “Some of us believe it’s not just luck,” Lydon says. “We’re being assisted by those ancestors who saw that we got to the right place at the right time.”

The cities of Pacific Grove and Monterey have installed signposts acknowledging its Chinese fishing history. But these markers haven’t created a public consciousness in the way that Chinese contributions to railroads and gold mines have. Recently, some descendants have advocated for more concrete and political ways of restoring their forebears’ legacy.


Nancy Wang, a great-grandniece of Spanish Mary, wrote a play about the fishermen who were shipwrecked at Whalers Cove. She wants to incorporate a version of the story into the city's elementary school curriculum. “People keep thinking we’re foreigners,” she says. “We need to teach our children that we helped build this country.”

Russell Jeong, a fifth-generation descendant and an Asian American Studies professor at San Francisco State University, says that institutions need to be held responsible—starting with his alma mater, Stanford, which built Hopkins atop his family’s demolished home. “I want Stanford to apologize for its record of discrimination,” he says. “I want Stanford students to recognize that their privilege is built on the labor and land of people of color.”

Low-Sabado, for her part, is focused on planning her 11th Walk of Remembrance, an annual commemorative march to the Point Alones village. At her age, she says, she needs to pick her battles, whether that means handing out business cards to strangers or sharing her story to students around the Bay Area. “Sometimes, it’s another young generation that will pick up my cause,” she says.

10 Cultural Craft Projects to Calm Your Cooped-Up Kids


Museums around the world have created new ways to play from home.

Schools are closed, playgrounds are off-limits, and playdates have gone remote. As parents adapt to stay-at-home orders meant to slow the spread of COVID-19, cultural institutions around the world are ready to help ease cabin fever. Their crafts, worksheets, and games can introduce young ones to diverse cultures.

Here are some creative ways for families to combat restlessness while staying indoors. Most of these activities are suitable for children between five and 11 and only require basic crafting supplies, such as glue, paper, and scissors.

Build a model Viking ship

The Internationales Maritimes Museum Hamburg is a haven of nautical design, with more than 1,000 model ships on view. Time-travel to the Viking Age with this activity from the museum’s education team, which teaches you how to cut out and construct your own slender sea vessel from paper or cardboard.


Make corn-husk dolls

If you have fresh corn in your kitchen, be sure to save the husks for this crafting project. These small figures were made by Native Americans for amusement and, at times, spiritual ceremonies. The Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose has a step-by-step guide in English and Spanish, complete with photographs, for making different kinds.

Collage a Silk Road camel

Have a pile of unwanted magazines or paper scraps? Use them to decorate the National Museum of Australia’s template of a friendly camel—the hardy, shaggy traveler that once carried trading goods along the Silk Road. You can also print and fold a colorful chatterbox (also known as a fortune teller) that provides snippets of advice for your camel’s journey.

Paint headwear for strength and focus

Hachimaki is a type of cotton band once worn by samurai and believed to help ward off evil. Today, the Japanese headpieces are associated more broadly with endurance and are worn on many occasions. Learn how to make and decorate your own by following a tutorial by the Boston Children’s Museum.


Turn classical statues into a coloring book

In the last two decades, scholars have drawn attention to the lesser-known fact that ancient Greek and Roman marble statues were originally painted in brilliant colors. Imagine how these figures may have looked by playing this online game designed by the Acropolis Museum, available in English and Greek, which allows you to color in your own reconstructions.

Bake prairie breads

These simple baking recipes from colonial America, gathered by the Children’s Museum of South Dakota, call for ingredients that parents may already have in the pantry, such as flour, baking soda, milk, and cornmeal. Try your hand at making skillet bread or a golden-brown, pumpkin-y pan bread. Need a workout? There’s even a recipe to churn your own butter.

Weave a mini carpet

With just cardboard, yarn, scissors, tape, and a needle, you can create your own loom by following this video published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Find some inspiration on this activity page by the Aga Khan Museum, which spotlights diverse carpets that embody the theme of personal sanctuary.


Assemble a trusty animal mount

Many Hindu deities travel on animals or mythical creatures, such as a giant mouse or a seven-headed horse. These living vehicles, or vahanas, represent each god’s individual powers and attributes. Try designing your own in this craft project by Norton Simon Museum, which transforms a toy car into a tiny mobile companion.

Decorate a Maya vessel

Save those empty soup cans: the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has a step-by-step guide to transform them into containers inspired by Maya clay vessels. Learn about the sophisticated pictographs that the Maya used for writing and decorate your can with your own stories.

Go virtual like the Victorians

Before Oculus Rift made virtual reality a reality, there was the humble stereoscope, invented in the 1830s by British scientist Charles Wheatstone. The handheld device produces an illusion of depth, so photographs placed inside resemble 3-D views of real life. The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, part of the Smithsonian Institution, walks you through the process of making stereoscopes and stereographs. With plenty of vintage images available on the Internet, look forward to hours of eye-opening fun.

The Coronavirus Is Bringing Back a 1,000-Year-Old 'Cheese' in Japan


Once, it was considered fit for the emperor.

On February 27, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe requested that all schools in Japan shut down until early April to stop the spread of COVID-19. By the next week, most schools across the country shuttered.

But one of the biggest buyers of Japanese agricultural products is the school lunch program, which feeds elementary and middle school students around the country. Around ten percent of all domestic food production goes to school lunch, which usually emphasizes local or domestic products. (Besides feeding the kids, lunch at Japanese schools is frequently used as a teaching moment, to educate them about traditional regional dishes as well as locally produced foods.)

Dairy farms in particular felt the blow right away. A few pleaded to the public to buy more milk, both to evade financial trouble and so that their cows, who have to be milked every day, wouldn’t suffer.

People quickly jumped to help. But then the question arose: what to do with so much extra milk? Families could give milk to their kids with lunch at home, but adults in Japan don’t drink a whole lot of milk, although they do consume other dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese.


Enter 蘇, or so, an ancient kind of "cheese." It's not quite certain where the trend started, but along with recipes for desserts that used excess milk, a craze for making so took off in early March. So (pronounced with a short o, as in "lot") is a Japanese dairy product from the Nara (710–794) and Heian (794–1185) periods, when the influence from China and Korea was at its strongest. The aristocrats that ruled the land at the time eagerly absorbed culture and technology from the mainland, including the consumption of dairy products and dairy farming, which didn't exist in Japan at the time.

Heian-era documents list several dairy products. According to Milk and the Japanese by Yutaka Yoshida, these included raku, which may have been butter or a kind of condensed milk, and daigo, which may have been a cheese or a type of ghee. However, no records remain for how dairy products were made, with one exception: so. The Engishiki, a book of laws and customs that was written mostly in 927, notes that so was made by cooking down milk to one tenth of its volume. It was exquisite enough to be deemed suitable for presenting to the emperor.


In 1185, after a long, bloody war for control of the land, the warlord Minamoto no Yoritomo established the Kamakura Shogunate, kicking off the era of the samurai, which lasted (with a couple of interruptions) until 1868. The samurai were not interested in cows or dairy—they were far more interested in breeding lots of horses to use for battle. Dairy farming in Japan virtually disappeared, and didn't take off again until the start of the modern era in the Meiji period (1868-1912).

A few online cooks and history buffs have been trying to make so for some years, as part of a general renewed interest in Japanese history and how people lived in the past. But homebound people recently started posting recipes and pictures for so on Instagram and Twitter, discussing how to cook it and reporting back on how it tasted. I tried making it myself, following the various instructions on Japanese social media. It's not hard, but it is tedious.


I wanted the so to be as pale and cheese-like as possible, so I kept the heat very low (if the heat is too high, it turns brown). My first try ended up as a blackened disaster, when I got distracted by some COVID-19 news. My second try was ultimately successful, but it took 6 hours of patient stirring. The results, to me, were (sorry) only so-so. Although it's similar to paneer, the basic recipe (as deduced by modern netizens from that short mention in the Engishiki) has no acid, salt, or sweetener in it, so it's very bland. Paired with salty crackers, it's not too bad; the texture is a little fudge-like, although others have said it reminds them of cheesecake, or even butter. At the very least, it was an interesting experiment. If you want to try your hand at making so, cook down non-UHT pasteurized full-fat milk over low heat, stirring it occasionally, until it forms a mass. Form the mass into a block, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm.

As for why this tedious ancient cheese product took off on Japanese social media, many people suddenly had a lot of time on their hands. With increased teleworking and students stuck at home due to school closures, simple projects like this one gave everyone joining in a sense of community, as well as a connection to our collective past. It’s fun to imagine the elegant aristocrats of long ago nibbling on the very same thing.

Escape Into NASA's Most Incredible Images of Our Planet


And don't forget to cast your vote in "Tournament Earth."

With March Madness canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, last month was a sorry time for brackets and the bettors who love them. On the competition front, April is shaping up to be a little more promising: NASA’s Earth Observatory is pitting some of its finest images against each other in a battle to crown one breathtaking champion. The competition, Tournament Earth, divides the entries into categories such as “home planet,” “ice and land,” and “sky and sea.”

The competition has its roots in a recent call-out from the Earth Observatory, which asked the public to pluck the most striking images from the more than 16,000 in its online collection. Now, anyone can cast a vote in the knock-out rounds—and savor some immersive, diverting views of our planet in the process.


The competition is fierce. In the “sea and sky” match-up, an aerial view of the Atafu Atoll—a bicycle-seat-shaped outline in the South Pacific, where coral reefs ring a former volcano—currently faces off against a view of blue-green ripples in the Andaman Sea. The gloves are off in “ice and land,” too, where the #8 seed—an image of the red-tinted dunes of the Namib Sand Sea and the rocky land it borders—spars with the #4 seed, a 2014 image of rivers of molten rock gushing from Iceland’s Holuhraun lava field.


If you’d like to give your brain a vacation while your body stays indoors, dive into the “home planet” category and see the ribboning aurora australis (the northern lights’ southern counterpart) as glimpsed by astronauts on the International Space Station in 2011, or catch Earth rising, floating like a faraway marble above the mottled surface of the Moon.


Voting for round two wraps on the morning of April 6, 2020. For people on Earth who are currently struggling, these images might be a welcome distraction. For the astronauts who captured some of the photographs, looking down at our planet often stirs memories of what they missed while they were in space. The vast loneliness … of the Moon is awe-inspiring, and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth,” Apollo 8 astronaut Jim Lovell told Earthlings during a Christmas Eve broadcast from orbit in 1968. “The Earth from here is a grand oasis to the big vastness of space.” We hope that these images buoy your spirit and remind you of small ways to find wonder every day, even from this place we call home.

The Date of an Ancient Mediterranean Eruption Is Hidden in Dead Trees


Specifically, in the wood of a royal Phrygian tomb.

To the untrained eye, the picturesque island of Santorini doesn’t seem like the product of civilization-altering carnage. But about 3,600 years ago—when this isle in the eastern Mediterranean was called Thera—a devastating volcanic eruption rocked the region, creating the landmass as it's shaped today. And that “about” matters.

For decades, archaeologists, geologists, volcanologists, and dendrochronologists—the experts on and keepers of time immemorial—have hotly debated the timing of Thera’s eruption, which serves as a historical benchmark for parts of the world outside of Greece. Dating the blast precisely would allow major historical events that occurred well beyond the periphery of the island to be time-stamped more accurately.

Now that seems to have happened. A study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has pinned the eruption to a year: around 1560 BC.


“Consensus was really split between this group of people who thought the Thera eruption was around 1600 BC and then a group of people that thought it was around 1540, 1520 BC,” says Charlotte Pearson, a dendrochronologist at the University of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research and lead author of the new study. “There were these two ... camps that had arrived at the dates of Thera through these different lines of evidence.”

When the volcano erupted, the island of Thera—and environs thousands of miles in every direction—was wracked with pyroclastic flows and tsunamis, as clouds of ash blotted out the sky and blanketed much of the Mediterranean region with the stuff. That included the local Minoan town of Akrotiri and, farther away, woods that would be used to construct the royal “Midas Mound” tumulus, or tomb, near the ancient Phrygian site of Gordion, in Turkey.

Using samples of the juniper trees that were felled to construct the tomb (“basically a log cabin,” Pearson says), the dendrochronological team—from the University of Arizona and ETH Zürich—was able to see where a significant event in the trees’ lifespan had blanched some of the tree rings. But since the timbers were cut in ancient times, they were devoid of chronological context. Once they came down, they could no longer be aligned with an active calendar, as opposed to the ancient trees that remain standing today, which are firmly planted in modern chronologies.


“All tree-ring chronologies developed from nonliving trees are ‘floating’ in time until we anchor them to existing live-tree data,” says Kristen de Graauw, a dendrochronologist affiliated with West Virginia University who was not affiliated with this study. For example, she says, “historic log-building samples are ‘floating.’ But by comparing them with old live trees (from a similar region), we can match the ring-width patterns and link the chronologies to the present.”

Like a giant, bark-encrusted daisy chain, the lifespans of different trees around the world add up to one diffuse calendar of deep time. On a small scale, it means that a 500-year-old tree that survived a local forest fire years before may be able to tell researchers when the fire happened. For larger-scale events—like devastating volcanic eruptions that can be felt halfway around the world—ancient trees are a reference text, helping order the pages of earth’s history scattered in places like the Gordion tomb.


Using calendar-dated bristlecone pines from the United States and oaks from Ireland, Pearson, working in Arizona, was able to “cross-date” the Turkish junipers, figuring out their timeframe and deducing the approximate year of the explosion in Greece. For good measure, her team also ran an X-ray analysis of the wood and radiocarbon-dated the specimens.

But although cross-dating has helped narrow the window on Thera, Pearson says that more ancient trees and chemical analyses would significantly help confirm the eruption’s signature on wood around the world. And along with those additional analyses, more wood samples—for further corroboration—would be useful.

“We have to do more digging," Pearson says. "We have to use a technique that’s actually going to help us get a chemical recipe. Because in a chemical recipe, we have more of a chance of working out exactly what the causes [were].”

A Look Back at Franklin, America's Lost State


It existed for a brief and treasonous four years.

The first time I made it to the top of Viking Mountain in the Great Smokies, fog slowly faded out the mountains and valleys until the horizon was a slate of gray. Below, my hometown of Greeneville, Tennessee was hidden in the haze. But even on a clear day, I’ve never been able to see the little mountain town with clarity. My family moved away from Greeneville and hopped to foreign and domestic military bases before I could get acquainted with the land. And so began my fascination with the hometown in the Appalachian foothills that I left behind.

Turns out, Greeneville wasn’t just lost to me. It was once the capital of America’s Lost State.

Beyond covering my hometown, that lingering fog hid the boundaries of America’s 14th state: Franklin. If you’ve never heard of Franklin, it’s probably because it existed for a brief and treasonous four years and was never recognized as a true state by Congress. Regardless, during its struggle for legitimized statehood, Franklinites would live, fight, and die for the principles the State of Franklin represented.

In 1784, before Tennessee’s slender shape had ever been imagined and drawn on a map, there were rumblings of discontent in three counties in western North Carolina : Washington, Sullivan, and Greene. These small counties were isolated from the rest of North Carolina and their governing representatives, separated by the formidable Southern Appalachian mountain range. Residents were all too aware of how the mountains they lived in and around disenfranchised their lives. “There is a sort of political marginalization being so far away from the seat of state power and not having your political interests represented,” says Dr. Kevin Barksdale, history professor at Marshall University and author of The Lost State of Franklin: America’s First Secession.


One of the primary political concerns of the Franklinites was that the North Carolina government and the federal government would sell their land from beneath their feet. That fear was grounded in reality, as North Carolina had ceded the territory west of the Appalachians to the United States for the purpose of resale just months before the formation of Franklin.

In 1784, the United States owed massive debts to its allies from the Revolutionary War. Without the power to levy taxes, the Continental Congress, which was the federal governmental body in charge before the U.S. elected its first president and ratified its Constitution, had to get creative in how they compensated their lenders. One way the U.S. did this was by accepting land ceded from the 13 states and selling land titles to settlers. North Carolina’s cession of the territory on the other side of Appalachia threatened to make the Franklinites trespassers on the land on which they lived and worked. When North Carolina changed its mind about giving up the territory in November 1784, it was too late. Washington, Sullivan, and Greene representatives met in Jonesborough, a city in Washington County, and declared their sovereignty in the form of the brand new State of Franklin.

At its conception, the 14th state was about as defined as the Great Smoky Mountain fog that clouded the land. Franklin’s boundaries were nebulous and even the name was not agreed upon unanimously. One draft of the state constitution referred to the state as “Frankland”— meaning free land or land of the free. “Franklin” made it to the final version of the constitution, in honor of Benjamin Franklin.


In historical context, Franklin was formed just one year after the official conclusion of the Revolutionary War. The U.S. was an infant country with a collective personality based on rebellion, independence, and self-governance. The war heroes from the American Revolution who fought and killed for these principles were now leaders in local government roles. Such was the case for celebrated war veteran John Sevier, elected governor of Franklin. It’s plausible that the same values he fought for a few years prior inspired his leadership and passion for Franklin’s separation.

Franklin represents the early American concept that “if your government is not representing you, then it’s your right and your duty to throw off that government and establish a new government,” Barksdale says. “Franklin demonstrates how the statehood movement in the heart of Appalachia was [of] central [importance] to our new nation immediately after the American Revolution.”

Despite the Franklinites’ self-determination, their boundaries were never respected by the neighboring state from which they separated. The North Carolina government ignored Franklin’s secession and set up courthouses in its territory, leading to both states claiming the same parcel of land. This pocket of Appalachia was taxed by two state governments, two court systems enforced two sets of laws, and two state militaries marched on the same ground.

Tensions escalated to open fire in February 1788. The Battle of the State of Franklin was ignited when North Carolina Sheriff John Pugh seized Governor Sevier’s property under the pretense that the Franklin governor had failed to pay taxes to North Carolina. Sevier responded with 100 Franklinites at Col. John Tipton’s residence to take back his belongings. Tipton held fast and demanded that Sevier and all Franklinites submit to North Carolina law.

A days-long stalemate resulted, during which North Carolina loyalists gathered to defend Tipton. Ultimately, the long wait came to an end with 10 minutes of gun fire, three dead, several wounded, and a humiliating retreat for the Franklinites.


While Franklin clashed with North Carolina, the new state also battled with regional Native Americans. Franklin leaders met with Overhill Cherokee leaders at the conjunction of Dumplin Creek and the French Broad River to establish a land treaty. As Barksdale notes in his book, the meeting was named, ironically, “a Treaty of Amity and Friendship.” The exploitative treaty would soon be illegitimate when the Hopewell Treaty, established among the Cherokee and the federal U.S., contradicted its boundaries. Come spring 1786, blood would spill in the Tennessee Valley as the Cherokee executed a series of raids against the Franklinites in defense of their land.

Still, Franklin’s largest barrier to statehood came from the top level, Congress. The statehood movement that grew out of a tiny community in Southern Appalachia reflected a larger, national conversation about how American representative democracy would work going forward, Barksdale explains. To what degree would independence be revered? How would the United States go about creating states in the uncharted Western territory? As Barksdale asks, “How committed were Americans to the basic American Revolution principles of self-determination?”

Not committed enough to allow Franklin its self-determined statehood. The Confederation Congress rejected Franklin’s request and denied state sovereignty; perhaps, under the trepidation of how the ideas of self-determination in this tiny portion of Appalachia could spread to the rest of the country. “Appalachia becomes a testing ground immediately after the revolution for the principles of the revolution,” Barksdale says. “The chaos surrounding Franklin becomes a major player in shaping how the frontier in the Western territories will be integrated into the United States.”

The violent battles and lost lives in the Cherokee raids weren’t enough to make Franklin give up statehood. It wasn’t until 1788, when Governor Sevier was forced into handcuffs by an arresting squad out of North Carolina, that Franklin’s dissolution became imminent. Each step of the governor’s trek through the Appalachian wilderness lead him closer to his trial for treason in Morganton, North Carolina. Sevier’s arrest marked the end of Franklin and the beginning of its designation as “America’s Lost State.”

When I sought a connection with Greeneville, the hometown I barely knew, I obsessively researched facts and data about the place. I discovered how Viking Mountain pierces the sky at 4,844 feet, that a cannonball fired in an 1864 Civil War battle remains lodged in the side of Greeneville Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and that my Papaw Jack was a member of a group open to people who descended from Franklinites.

I come from Franklin, but simply knowing its facts and history didn’t give me that “at-home” feeling. My best sense of home came when I stopped researching, sat quietly creek-side in the mountains that straddle the Tennessee–North Carolina border, in the good company of nettle and wild violets, and listened to the mountains. For now, getting lost in the fog in the land of the Lost State is enough for me.


After Franklin dissolved, Greeneville was demoted from state capital of Franklin to a mostly unheard of town in the Appalachian foothills of Tennessee. Today, a modest log cabin replica of Franklin’s capitol stands in downtown Greeneville. Only a replica remains because, like the State of Franklin, the original building was lost. It mysteriously vanished en route to Nashville for Tennessee’s centennial celebration in 1897.

As for Governor Sevier, he never made it to his trial for treason. The county sheriff had fought alongside Sevier during the American Revolution and helped his old battle buddy escape the cuffs and jail cell. According to one account, by the time Sevier’s rescue party arrived from Franklin, their governor was already drunk in the local Morganton tavern. Sevier didn’t mourn Franklin’s dissolution for too long, and the public quickly forgave him for treasonously running an unofficial state. He was elected into the North Carolina state senate the year after his arrest and would eventually serve as Tennessee’s first governor.

How the Man Who Invented Xbox Baked a 4,500-Year-Old Egyptian Sourdough


It took three experts, two museums, and one clay pot to bake a truly ancient loaf.

Like many of us, Seamus Blackley tweeted a photo of homemade sourdough while stuck at home this weekend. Unlike many of us, however, Blackley is no novice, and this was no online recipe comprised of everyday ingredients. A trained physicist and video game producer credited with inventing the Xbox, Blackley is also an experienced baker and amateur Egyptologist. The recipe came, in part, from ancient hieroglyphs, and the ingredients came, in part, from museum archives.

Blackley’s weekend sourdough was the culmination of a year-long passion project that produced a loaf of bread not eaten for millenia. By extracting 4,500-year-old dormant yeast samples from ancient Egyptian baking vessels and reviving them in his home kitchen, Blackley and his collaborators quite literally brought history to life, and ate it. “It was unbelievably emotional for me,” says Blackley. “I stan Egypt.” While the breakthrough is cause for celebration among Egyptophiles, archaeologists, and bakers everywhere, the project was actually born of an online blunder.


Ever since he first saw a mummy on Scooby-Doo as a child, Blackley has harbored an insatiable curiosity for all things Egypt. And ever since his parents let him in the kitchen as a teenager, he’s been baking bread as well. So when a friend approached him last April with what he claimed was ancient Egyptian yeast, Blackley leapt at the opportunity, tweeting a photo of the resultant “ancient” loaf. Online academics summarily dragged him for the yeast's questionable provenance.

One of the detractors was an archaeologist with a background in Egyptology from the University of Queensland, Dr. Serena Love. “I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I don’t have an Xbox, I could care less about Xboxes,” says Dr. Love. She expertly probed him about the yeast, asking what Blackley ultimately called “the right questions.” Another interested voice was Richard Bowman, a biologist at the University of Iowa.

“I hadn’t exactly done my homework,” says Blackley. “They weren’t trolling me—I’m from the games business, I’m immune to trolling at this point. They were just after the proof. I was really embarrassed I hadn’t done this right.”


The online reaction actually seemed to encourage Blackley. “I feel I have a responsibility of being a modern representative of ancient Egyptians and not letting people give them any shit,” says Blackley. He’d hoped his experiment would disprove all-too-common assumptions about ancient cultures.

“People assume they were primitive because they didn’t have iPhones,” says Blackley. “They were potentially more sophisticated because of that.” He believes that feeble attempts at ancient-baking reenactments further denigrate the legacy of ancient Egyptians as well. “People come out with a bad result and say, ‘Oh, look at this disgusting food, the ancient world must have been terrible,’ but anyone who’s studied this knows that’s utter bullshit,” says Blackley. “They were master bakers.”

Instead of arguing with his auditors, Blackley enlisted Love and Bowman to help him get it right and bake a truly ancient Egyptian loaf. “I picked the two people who gave me the most crap and I said, ‘Let’s be friends,’” says Blackley.

Between an archaeologist, a microbiologist, and a dedicated, well-funded baker, the team laid their groundwork. If Dr. Love could secure access to ancient baking pottery, Bowman could provide a safe method to extract the ancient yeast for Blackley to then revive and bake. “It was one of those weird confluences where the right people with the right mix of skills showed up on Twitter at the same time,” says Blackley.


Dr. Love contacted several museums throughout the United States and Europe with Ancient Egypt collections and requested access to their archives. “I definitely received mixed responses,” says Dr. Love. “A lot of people ignored me.” Finally, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard’s Peabody Museum relented, allowing Blackley access to their deep troves of ancient Egyptian artifacts. “It was a little intimidating, to be honest,” he says. Bowman’s non-invasive extraction method resembles miniaturized fracking, wherein a portion of ceramic is injected with a nutrient bath before being pulled out through a syringe with the ancient yeast intact.

Blackley shipped the samples to Bowman in Iowa, but took one vial home to Southern California to feed and propagate himself. Interestingly, the sample could only be revived with Emmer flour, a denser varietal of flour likely used by Egyptians of the Old Kingdom. Modern flours consistently killed the yeast samples in Bowman's lab in Iowa as well, leading them both to a similar conclusion: In the off-chance that the samples were contaminated, the microbes are still likely thousands of years old.

Blackley revived the yeast and baked it on a pan in his conventional home oven, resulting in a loaf that made headlines this past August. “I’ve made a fuck ton of sourdough,” says Blackley, “but this was different.” The ancient loaves were sweeter and chewier than the standard modern sourdough, with a smooth crumb closer to white bread.

For a truly ancient loaf, however, Blackley would have to bake like an Egyptian.


According to Dr. Love, commoner foods of the Old Kingdom included beer, pulses, and onions (“they were much sweeter than ours, you could eat them like apples,” she says), but nothing was more ubiquitous than bread. Blackley, having studied hieroglyphics, says ancient Egyptians actually had 176 words for it. If they were big on baking, however, they were less insistent on clear recipes, relying mostly on oral transmission of instructions. As such, Dr. Love had to synthesize data from ancient art, writing, and archaeology to decode their baking methods.

Her work showed that Egyptians placed their dough into a heated, conical, clay pot called a bedja before burying it in a hole surrounded by hot embers, a process Blackley made it his mission to reenact to perfection. “The guy’s mind runs at 100 miles per hour,” says Dr. Love, “but he’s very methodical. I knew it would work.”

First, Blackley spent months baking ancient sourdough in his home oven using a tajine as a stand in for a bedja. Staying true to the yeast’s forebears, he even fermented all his yeast at exactly 94° F. “That’s the average daytime temperature around the Nile, and it makes bangin’ bread,” says Blackley.


He estimates that he cooked about 75 loaves before building his own bedja by hand and digging a hole in his backyard to master underground baking. “If I hadn’t spent so much time working on it, it would have been a wreck,” says Blackley. “I would have been another one of those people posting a shitty, burned, flat loaf saying, ‘Welp I guess this is what the ancient Egyptians had to deal with!’” Instead, Blackley’s backyard loaf proved exceptional, if not for one minor hiccup. “I was freaking out because I burned the top,” says Blackley. “But in the end, I realized the process of figuring out how to bake like them was really what got me so close to these people I respect so much, not the end product.” From the ancient yeast to the underground baking method, Blackley had at long last produced an indisputably ancient loaf with the same rich sweetness as his summer sourdough.

For now, Bowman continues to sequence the extracted samples in his lab, separating ancient yeast from modern contaminants. Dr. Love plans on gathering a greater diversity of yeast samples from an array of Egyptian artifacts. And Blackley fantasizes about one day selling ancient Egyptian bread commercially.

Once the sequencing is completed, the team has agreed to return the isolated ancient yeast to Egypt in one form or another. “It’s their property,” says Dr. Love. In the meantime, Blackley is digging more holes in his backyard.

You can join the conversation about this and other stories in the Atlas Obscura Community Forums.

This Is a Great Time to Busy Yourself With Bees


You can invite them over by planting some native plants on your deck or fire escape.

When Hollis Woodard picks up the phone on a Friday afternoon in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has to pry her hands from the dirt. “I’m working on the yard furiously to try and soothe myself,” she says. Woodard, an entomologist at the University of California, Riverside, studies bumble bees—a profession that sometimes pulls her to landscapes as lush and dreamy as a Bob Ross painting.

At a time when many people are instructed to shelter in place, meadow-traipsing can be hard to come by. But it's an ideal time to bring the bees to you. “This is exactly the time of year when they start getting active,” Woodard says.

Bees perk up at the first signs of spring, typically responding to the appearance of flowers and cues that warmer weather or nourishing rainfall are on the horizon, or have already arrived. Across the 20,000 species of bees, winter habits vary pretty widely: Some so-called “solitary bees” spend the winter as pupae and blink into spring as adults. Meanwhile, “social bees,” including honeybees, have perennial colonies and simply stay cozy until it’s time to bust out. Bumble bee queens hunker down underground for the winter as plump, full-fledged adults; when the weather relents, they dig their way out and start flying—sometimes before the snow has even fully melted away. (In California, they gather at manzanita flowers that bloom in the winter.) “As soon as it’s a nice day,” Woodard says, “they fly out of their hives and go forage.”


If you don’t happen to live around a lot of green space or a field of wildflowers, you can still lure bees to your deck, windowsill, or fire escape. Even in the heart of a city, she adds, bees will show up (though they might not reach the top of towering high-rises). “If you’re sitting around, bored as hell—you’ve read all your books, sick of the internet—you could plant some things,” Woodard says. “Get a flowering plant that bees like and put it on a balcony or a window box, and it’s very much like, ‘If you build it, they will come.’”

In general, Woodward goes on, “the more things you plant, the more diversity you’ll see—you might see dozens of different types of bees showing up.” In California, nurseries are currently stocking bee-friendly poppies and blooming sages—but the best options will vary based on your location. The conservation-focused Xerces Society has regional lists of native plants that will be beguiling to bees across the country.

When bees do zip over to your window, you can log your findings on the citizen science project iNaturalist—or, if you’re in North America and you spot a bumble bee, you can post your observation to Bumble Bee Watch, a collaboration between The Xerces Society, the University of Ottawa, and several other partners. (In either case, try to get a clear photo of the little creature.) If you want to know more about what you’re looking at, Woodard recommends flying through The Bees in Your Backyard, a visual guide to thousands of species that live in the U.S. and Canada.

These long, uncertain afternoons at home are a nice chance to say hello to the apian neighbors, and to take a look at the world outside the window. “It’s a cool opportunity,” Woodard says. When we go back to being busy as bees, she adds, “people might be going through their day and not thinking so much about who comes to visit.”