BENEVENTUM. The wikipedia entry for the Appian Way describes how the Appian Way was extended 35 miles past Capua to a place the Samnites called “Maloenton” (or, apparently, “Maleventum”). Pyrrhus had said about an earlier battle in the Samnite Wars, “One more such victory, and I am lost”. It was at Maloenton that Pyrrhus suffered a crushing defeat at the two-day Battle of Beneventum in 275 BC—the last battle of the Pyrrhic Wars. Here is the wikipedia entry on the Battle of Beneventum. The Romans renamed the town from “Maleventum” (“site of bad events”) to a name more associated with good omens—“Beneventum” (“site of good events”).

Kids, you should take note of Beneventum because it is your mother’s understanding that her mother’s parents—two of your great grandparents—came from a village near Beneventum (now Benevento).

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VICTOR HUGO AT THE BARRICADES (SPOILER ALERT). Les Miserables is a great musical. Several of the great scenes take place at a barricade that some students have erected in the uprising of 1832. The musical and Hugo’s book are sympathetic to the students, except for questioning the foolishness of their endeavor. In the London Review of Books (May 4, 2017), Tim Parks reviews THE NOVEL OF THE CENTURY, a book about LES MISERABLES by David Bellos, and presents an interesting biographical analysis of Hugo (link via arts and letters daily).

Hugo was elected to the National Assembly in 1848. The monarchy had collapsed and students and workers went to the barricades. Hugo went to the barricades and demanded that they be taken down. The rebels refused. Hugo ordered the National Guard to open fire. Parks writes: “For three tumultuous days and at great personal risk, Hugo, unasked, led government attacks on the barricades. ‘He was a dutiful man,’ Bellos remarks. Hugo’s biographer Graham Robb puts it more brutally. ‘This means that [Hugo] was directly responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of workers.’​”

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FLAVOR NOTES FOR BOG BUTTER. Joshua Levine article discusses the speculation that bog dwellers must have known that a bog would preserve a body buried in it because they made a practice of burying large amounts of butter in bogs. The butter is still being found thousands of years later. Levine’s article led me to this article by Jason Daley, entitled “A Brief History of Bog Butter”, also in Smithsonian (June 13, 2016). I have posted several times about bog butter, including this post on the speculation that bog butter was buried to improve the taste.

Daley’s article contains some flavor notes for bog butter. One museum curator said about a chunk of bog butter: “It did smell like butter, after I had held it in my hands, my hands really did smell of butter. There was even a smell of butter in the room it was in.” On the other hand, Daley says that a recent experiment by the Nordic Food Lab to reconstruct an ancient butter recipe resulted in “… flavor notes which were described primarily as ‘animal’ or ‘gamey’, ‘moss’, ‘funky’, ‘pungent’, and ‘salami’.”

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IDENTIFYING ANCIENT DNA IN MUD. This article by Michael Le Page on the New Scientist website offers hope for a new archaeological tool. Scientists have had some success in looking for the DNA of early humans in ancient sediments in places such as caves. Le Page says: “Just about any sample of soil or water is full of DNA from all kinds of organisms.”

The implication would be that even if DNA cannot be extracted from the bones or hair of a fossil, DNA found at a location can provide some evidence about people who have visited a site. For example, it could provide evidence of how our ancestors moved around.

There are plans to look for DNA at the many sites where stone tools but no fossils have been found.

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EFFORTS TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT BOG BODIES. The title of Joshua Levine’s article is optimistic: “Europe’s Famed Bog Bodies Are Starting to Reveal Their Secrets.” However, the secrets and mysteries remain. The article describes ingenious efforts which have led to meager results. Levine acknowledges that: “Much of what we know about bog bodies amounts to little more than guesswork and informed conjecture”.

This seems to be what is known: Depending on how you count, there are probably hundreds of bog bodies that have been found in Europe. Nearly all appear to have been killed. Radiocarbon dating has established that most of them died between 500 BC and 100 AD.

The contents of the stomachs of the victims show that most of them were killed in early spring—“barley, linseed and knotweed, among others, but no strawberries, blackberries, apples or hips from summer and autumn”. It seems that not much more is known.

Efforts have been made to find Tollund Man’s DNA (the acid in bogs causes DNA to disintegrate.) He was sent for a microCT scan in Paris, to look into his arteries. Lindow Man was recently sent for a dual energy CT scan. Efforts were made to extract DNA from the teeth of another bog person, Haraldskjaer Woman. Levine says: “To get a workable sample would be a godsend for bog body research, since it could clarify whether she was an outsider or a local.”

However, the sample was too small. Levine quotes a researcher: “The DNA of the Haraldskjaer Woman will be beyond our reach forever….”

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THE UNCANNY NATURE OF BOGS. I posted here about how I believe that my Danish and Irish ancestors were bog people. I also believe that they lived in bogs because this was land that nobody else wanted. I had not realized that bogs were thought of as uncanny places to live until I read this article by Joshua Levine in the May 2017 Smithsonian (link via artsandlettersdaily). Levine dramatically presents the differences between bogs and the dense forests of northern Europe: “While most of Northern Europe lay under a thick canopy of forest, bogs did not. Half earth, half water and open to the heavens, they were borderlands to the beyond. To these people, will-o’-the-wisps—flickering ghostly lights that recede when approached—weren’t the effects of swamp gas caused by rotting vegetation. They were fairies.”

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COMPETING AT BAKING. I posted here that: “When our children were very young, my wife Mary Jane found it amusing when I confessed that I have never liked playing Ring Around the Rosy because nobody won.”

Mary Jane and Annalisa are huge fans of “The Great British Bake Off”, a series which makes baking interesting because it not only has winners but also losers.

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OGDEN NASH AND BASEBALL HISTORY. One reason that being part of a league with a history is appealing is that baseball fans generally love the history of baseball. As an example of the interest in baseball history of fans who grew up on computer games, from time to time, Nick plays in simulation games where teams are made up of players from the past. The scoring uses the actual historical performance of the players, usually in a particular year.

The Ogden Nash poem was written in 1949 about the first 50 years of the sport. Many of the players featured in the poem played between 1900 and 1920 and yet were familiar to fans in 1949 as they are now. Football and basketball don’t have the same kind of history. There is also a humor to baseball stories about the legends of the past that football and basketball don’t have.

Nash celebrates Dizzy Dean’s grammar:
(“D is for Dean,
The grammatical Diz,
When they asked, Who’s the tops?
Said correctly, I is.”)

This wikipedia entry cites perhaps Dean’s most famous line, saying that a player “slud” into third base.

Nash also includes Bobo Newsom in his poem, an example of the journeyman players who were the backbone of the game. This wikipedia entry points out that with 211 wins, Bobo is still one of the 100 winningest pitchers of all time. Yet he lost more games than he won. At a time when there were only 16 teams, Bobo in his career played for 9 of them. Like Dizzy Dean, Bobo had his own dialect. The wikipedia entry says that Bobo typically referred to everyone in the third person, including referring to himself as “Bobo”. Wikipedia notes that Bobo is the only player in the Nash poem who did not make the Hall of Fame.

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PLAYING BASEBALL USING 19TH CENTURY RULES. In addition to the display board, our league keeps the same categories that we started with in the first couple years. The league still has severe limits on substitution that originated when we the calculations were difficult in the beginning.

Baseball fans are traditionalists. One of our league members plays baseball in a league which uses 19th century rules. Here on youtube is Conan O’Brien playing in a game using 1864 rules.

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THE OLDEST FANTASY BASEBALL LEAGUE BEGINS ITS NEW SEASON. I have posted most years about when the oldest rotisserie baseball league begins its new season. Here is one of those posts that describes the league. I always enjoy the comments from other leagues that are many years old. Some of them also compiled statistics and standings from box scores in the early days.

One of the charms of the league for me is the old-fashioned technology. Nowadays, computers record each selection of a player instantaneously. The participants can be connected only by the internet. Daily standings for the teams are available.

We still meet with most most of the participants in the same location. There is a display board on which each player drafted is recorded by marker. The biggest change is, I think, that the standings are available in real time. Back in the day the standings in our league were provided only one or two times a year.

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