Saturday, 31 December 2016


Oreodont skull, John Day Fossil Beds
More than a 100 groups of mammals and a wide variety of plants have been found in the early Miocene, 39-19 million year old, John Day Formation near Kimberly, Oregon.

The fossiliferous strata that have yielded beautifully preserved specimens of many of the animals we see domesticated today. Dogs, cats, swine and horses are common. Oreodonts, camels, rhinoceros and rodents have also been found in this ancient deciduous forested area.

Here my talented young paleontologist cousin Spencer is holding a well preserved Oreodont skull.Many sites in Oregon yield beautifully preserved fossil shells laid down over 60 million years. The asteroid that hit the Gulf of Mexico at the end of the Cretaceous caused a seafloor rift that split ancient Oregon. The massive hole left behind as the coastal lands slid northward filled in with sediment, refilling the basin.

These marine sediments were uplifted around the time of the birth of Oregon's Coastal Range. Easily collected and identified, as they look very similar to their modern cousins, you can dig for marine fossils all along Oregon's beachfront.

Friday, 30 December 2016


A mix of Muslim and Christian architecture can be found in the stunning, and oh so grand Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba, southern Spain. 

Originally a small temple of Christian Visigoth origin, the Catholic Basilica of Saint Vincent of Lérins has an unusual and collaborative history. 

When Muslims conquered Spain in 711, the church was divided into Muslim and Christian halves.

This sharing arrangement lasted until 784, when the Christian half was purchased by the Emir 'Abd al-Rahman I, who then demolished the original structure to build the grand mosque of Córdoba on its ground.

Córdoba returned to Christian rule in 1236 during the Reconquista, and the building was converted to a Roman Catholic church, culminating in the inclusion of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the 16th century. If you are visiting Andalusia, it is well worth a day trip. Bring your camera and comfortable shoes.

Thursday, 29 December 2016


Kotsuis and Hohhug, Nakoaktok
This stunning image of Kotsuis and Hohhug, Nakoaktok — Nakoaktok men in ceremonial dress, with long beaks, crouching on their haunches was taken by Edward Curtis ca. 1914. 

Curtis photographed the Kwakwaka'waka ceremonial dress and masks on the west coast of British Columbia.

The Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw (or Kwakiutl) are a collective of First Nation groups of the Pacific Northwest Coast. We view them as one people, and they are bound by language, but each had their own Chiefs, beliefs and ancestors. Collectively they cover the territory of British Columbia on northern Vancouver Island, some of the islands around Johnstone Strait and Queen Charlotte Strait and the adjoining mainland. 

United by the common language of Kwak'wala, the broad group can be divided into 13 nations, each with its own clan structure and distinct histories. According to Kwakwaka'wakw folklore their ancestors or ‘na’mima, came to a given spot — by way of land, sea, or underground — in the form of ancestral animals that upon arrival shed their animal appearance and became human.

The first documented contact with Westerners was in 1792 during the expedition led by English officer Captain George Vancouver, and was soon followed by colonies of Europeans settling on Canada's West Coast. 

As was often the way, with settlers came disease and the Kwakwaka’wakw population dropped by up to 75% between 1830 and 1880. Their distinctive ideas about wealth — that status came not from how much you owned but how much you were able to give away — came to the particular attention of the US anthropologist Franz Boas, who wrote extensively on their elaborate gift-giving ceremonies known as the potlach. 

The ceremonial practice was also a particular target of Christian missionaries who saw it as a major obstacle to their "civilizing" mission, and the Canadian government banned the practice in 1885 —although the act was soon amended, proving impossible to enforce.

This photograph of the ceremonial dress and masks of the Kwakwaka'wakw was the creation of American photographer and ethnologist Edward Curtis (1868–1952), famous for his work with First Nations and Native American people. 

Part of a project funded by banking magnate J.P. Morgan, these photographs are from the collection held at the Library of Congress and contain many images not published in Curtis' enormous twenty-volume The North American Indian. In 2015, Taschen produced their epic 768-page The North American Indian: The Complete Portfolios, which gathers Curtis’ entire American Indian portfolio into one publication.

Library of Congress Collection:

Wednesday, 28 December 2016


In the Pacific Northwest, slavery and slave trading was a common practice recorded for hundreds of years and likely practised for thousands.

The British Empire abolished slavery in 1833. While it was illegal, its practice continued in various ways around the world.

In December 1946, the magazine The Beaver — now published as Canada's History Archive — interviewed Elizabeth Hunt Wilson, who grew up amongst slaves, slave traders, settlers and First Nations on the west coast of British Columbia, when slavery was still common practice. 

She recounted a tale of the murder of the last slave in her village — a man still held as a slave more than fifty years after its official abolishment — in the village of Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert on northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

The story holds special importance for me as she is the sister of my great-great-grandfather, William Hunt who married Annie Wilson (Kwagu’ł / Kwakiutl) — and my great-great-aunts and uncles — Sarah Edna Hunt Lyon, Emily Hunt, George Hunt (Ethnographer who worked with Franz Boas), Eli Fredrick Hunt, Mary (who died young), Robert James Jr. Hunt (died as a young man),  Jane Charity Hunt Cadwallader, Mary Hunt (named for the one who died), and Annie Hunt Spencer. 

Elizabeth was also the last surviving daughter of Robert Hunt and Mary Ebbetts (Abbits) — whom you may know as Anislaga or Anisalaga — the All-Mother. 

Robert Hunt had come to British Columbia in 1850 as an ambitious man. He worked first as a labourer, then postman and later worked his way up to run the Hudson's Bay Company's fort at Fort Rupert. 

Elizabeth's mother, Mary Ebbetts was born Asnaq of the Raven/Yéil phratry of the Gigalgam Kyinanuk Tlingit of Tongas and Larhtorh/Larhsail of Cape Fox. She was the daughter of Chief Keishíshk' Shakes Abbits IV and his wife, S’eitlin — a Deisheetaan (Gaanax.ádi) from Aan goon (Angoon), and granddaughter to the Head-Chief of Wrangell. She was a high-ranking daughter which made her the perfect bride. 

Letter from Chief Abbits to Mary Hunt Anisalaga, 1876
Anislaga married Robert Hunt of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Simpson at Lax-Kw'alaams on the Nass River while staying with the Tsimshian. 

They lived in the north then relocated to Fort Rupert where they had eleven children — seven daughters and four sons, including sweet Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was born into a time when Sir Anthony Musgrave was the governor of the united Colony of British Columbia and Sir. John A. Macdonald was Prime Minister of Canada.   

Macdonald, once been tepid on the question of the westward expansion of the Canadian provinces, became a zealot once in power. 

As Prime Minister, he became a strong supporter of a bi-coastal Canada and the commerce that would bring. Immediately upon Confederation, he sent commissioners to London who eventually negotiated the transfer of Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory to Canada. 

It was expansion into the west that led to Elizabeth's parents meeting and marrying — a binding of two cultures.  

Macdonald wished to secure the colony of British Columbia and ensure his new nation had a Pacific outlet. Both Fort Victoria (est. 1843) and Fort Rupert (est. 1849-51) — were central to these plans. Once the fort was established, 600-700 First Nations from more than twenty lineages lived near the site. Once smallpox washed through the community, that number was closer to 300-350. 

Robert Hunt, now factor, and Anislaga left Fort Rupert in 1868 to run the Fort Simpson site for the HBC. They returned to Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert in 1872 in time to give birth to their daughter, Jane Charity in 1873.

Anislaga's @Chilkat woven for William Hunt

A few years earlier, in 1870, while Anislaga, Elizabeth's mother was giving birth to Elizabeth in Fort Simpson and during the first months of her young life, negotiations were being conducted to bring British Columbia into the Confederation. 

This was at a time when cannibalism, as part of slave or child sacrifices, was still common practice.

The politics of the rest of Canada were unknown to her as she worked and played as a young girl. Elizabeth grew up in the remote, windswept village of Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert, a community built above the clam filled tidal flats in Beaver Cove eleven kilometres south of Port Hardy. It was my home as a girl and I think back on my childhood there with great fondness and try to imagine it when Elizabeth was a girl. 

Growing up, the only thing that remained of the old Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) fort was the old chimney and the graveyard a wee bit further south of the main fort site. I grew up beside the graveyard and spent many happy days playing amongst their long lost souls.

The fort site is just up the hill past the main reserve as you head south. Most of the fort was destroyed in the early 1940s. When Elizabeth was a girl, she knew the fort during its heyday — a trading shop, offices,  kitchens, living quarters, blacksmith, hardens and livestock pens filled its high walls. 

The area was established as much for the fur trade as it was for the local coal mining deposits. The fort was built in a military fashion with an eighteen-foot wooden palisade, both inner and outer gates — naively built from green wood — and metal cannons. The fort was the centre of trade and many tales of local conflict — both settler and First Nation.

Local Kwakiutl warriors took shelter within its walls to guard against marauding braves. Robert and Anislaga had run a thriving business, but that slowly declined. A fire took four of the houses and one life in 1868 — foreshadowing its demise as an HBC fort. 

Her father, Robert Hunt, my great-great-great-grandfather, purchased it from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1873. 

Elizabeth also spent time in Alert Bay and twenty years up in Rivers Inlet with her husband Daniel Wilson, a hale Scot who loved the west coast and First Nation traditions. She witnessed and heard stories of Haida raids on the Tsimshian First Nation near Prince Rupert and Alaska's Annette Islands and Coast Salish along the coast of Vancouver Island and British Columbia — capturing slaves and seizing valuable goods to bring home to Haida Gwaii in the hold of their large and skillfully built red cedar war canoes imbued with spirits — each act fomenting retaliation by the First Nation clans targeted. 

Haida canoes were the perfect fishing and raiding crafts. They were hewn from a single carefully chosen red cedar, felled in the fall. The wood would be prepared by burning and carved over the winter into a dugout that paddled true and could hold as many as 40 warriors.

When Elizabeth was eight or nine, a year or two after the Indian Act of 1876 was enacted, some warriors of the Cowichan First Nations captured and killed the sister of a Kwagu’ł Chief at Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert. 

The Chief's wife had brothers who were incensed by the slaughter and planned their own. They paddled down to the Cowichan village, killed four Cowichan First Nation warriors. Vanquished, the brothers returned home, their canoe held the body of their murdered sister and four dismembered heads of the Cowichan First Nation mounted on spears — the only witnesses to their vengeance. A funeral was prepared to honour their lost sibling. A Cowichan woman who had been captured as a slave was dressed in finery and brought to the mortuary tree where the sister's remains were to be interned. Gifts were bestowed upon her for her journey to the burial site and once there, she was shot and killed.  

The banning of the potlatch by Canadian law came into effect in 1884. A few years after the ban, when she was twenty, one of her sisters told her of a potlatch held by a Chief of the Kwagu’ł that her sister had attended. Potlatches take time to prepare for as the lineage Chief would consult with the oldest members of the household group and everyone would be involved. Though the ban had come into effect, preparations would have been well underway and the date already set.

Part of those preparations was the amassing of food and gifts for those invited as guests. Ceremonial pieces would be carved, Coppers polished and plans for what to give — or what to destroy — as the outright destruction of property is the ultimate mark of rank. One of the most valuable items you could destroy as part of your property was slaves.   

The Kwakiutl had Hamastas, members chosen to embody the ancient cannibals of their ancestors and act out ritualized cannibalism, most often at potlatch celebrations. These ritualistic dances are passed down through the lineage and still practised today.

Although it was long past the time when slavery had been formally outlawed, slavery was still practised along the coast and the last slave held by the Kwakiutl First Nations was serving at the celebrations. His master, the son of a Chief, stabbed him to death in a frenzy at the close of a potlatch. He would later serve jail time for the murder but come home fluent in English and well-thought-of by his peers for the adventures he had been on and for the great wealth he had dispatched, both in blankets and gifts and by the ultimate offering — the killing of a slave.

Elizabeth Hunt Wilson's husband was the accountant at one of the canneries in Rivers Inlet — possibly the Beaver Cannery. Alec Spencer would meet her when she came to Port Hardy on the Union Steamship. She would descend the vessel in her Hudson's Bay Company coat looking grand. Elizabeth Hunt Wilson fondly remembered as Aunt Lizzie died in 1954. The Vancouver Province ran a front line headline, "Fourth Coffin Ready, Aunt Lizzie Dies," to mark her departure. 

Elizabeth Hunt Wilson passed away as a widow with no children. She was an independent spirit. She kept a casket she was buried in was kept in her basement. Before she passed, Aunt Lizzie gave her casket to family members that had passed. This happened three times. Folk like Sally McMahon and Dusty would play funeral, taking turns being the departed while others sang hymns. When Aunt Lizzie passed Dusty inherited her house. 

References: The Beaver Magazine, Issue: December 1946. 

Note: The Beaver magazine was founded and published, during eras shaped by colonialism. Concepts such as racial, cultural, or gender equality were rarely, if ever, considered by the magazine or its contributors. In earlier issues, you find comments and terms now considered to be derogatory. It was originally published by the Hudson's Bay Company and is not partially funded by them and published by Canada’s History Society as Canadas History. /

Photo One: The Beaver, 1946. Elizabeth Hunt Wilson (1870-1854). Her First Nation name at Fort Rupert was Whale-swimming-by or Tlahlemdalaokwaw; at 'Ya̱lis, Alert Bay amongst the 'Na̱mg̱is First Nation her name was Thunderbird or Kunkwunkulegye.

Elizabeth is wearing a Chilkat blanket woven for her by her mother, a Master Tlingit Weaver. Mary Hunt Ebbetts (Abbits) Anislaga made a blanket for each of children who survived to adulthood. The spruce root hat she is holding is of Kwakiutl design. Elizabeth called her mother Anain — she reports that she was born Ansnaq — though is often called Anislaga or Anisalaga.

Note: Robert Hunt (1828-1893) and Mary Ebbetts (1823-1919). They had eleven children, seven daughters and four sons: Elizabeth Hunt (1870-1954; married Wilson), Emily (1852-1922), George (1864-1932), William (1866-1952), Eli Fredrick (1867-1936), Sarah Edna (1871-1948), Mary (1854-; who died young), Robert James Jr. (1874-1896; died a young man), Jane Charity (1873-1940; married Cadwalader), Mary (named for the one who died), and Annie (1856-1924; married Spencer — and had several children: Ann, Roy, Calvin, Allan, Stevens, Norman).

Note: Those living in Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert, British Columbia refer to themselves as Kwagu’ł, Kwakiutl or Kwakwaka'wakw, speakers of Kwak'wala. The term Kwakwaka'wakw is relatively recent in the lexicon and useful as a catchword for all the various Kwak'wala speaking groups who were amalgamated from roughly twenty-five-plus local clans, each aligned to a singular familial Chief.

Note: I have shared a copy of a letter from February 2, 1876 written by Chief Abbits (often written as Ebbetts) to his daughter, Mary Hunt Anisalaga. 

Tuesday, 27 December 2016


Irridescent, quick of wing and oh, so beautiful — the wee lovers of nectar who grace our blossoms are hummingbirds.

In the Kwak̓wala language of the Kwakiutl or Kwakwaka'wakw, speakers of Kwak'wala, of the Pacific Northwest, hummingbirds are known as k̕wa̱'ak̕wa̱mt̕a.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Thursday, 22 December 2016


A gull cries in protest at not getting his share of a meal

Gulls, or colloquially seagulls, are seabirds of the family Laridae in the suborder Lari. 

The Laridae are known from not-yet-published fossil evidence from the Early Oligocene — 30–33 million years ago. 

Three gull-like species were described by Alphonse Milne-Edwards from the early Miocene of Saint-Gérand-le-Puy, France. 

Another fossil gull from the Middle to Late Miocene of Cherry County, Nebraska, USA, has been placed in the prehistoric genus Gaviota

These fossil gulls, along with undescribed Early Oligocene fossils are all tentatively assigned to the modern genus Larus. Among those of them that have been confirmed as gulls, Milne-Edwards' "Larus" elegans and "L." totanoides from the Late Oligocene/Early Miocene of southeast France have since been separated in Laricola.

Gulls are most closely related to the terns in the family Sternidae and only distantly related to auks, skimmers and distantly to waders. 

A historical name for gulls is mews, which is cognate with the German möwe, Danish måge, Swedish mås, Dutch meeuw, Norwegian måke/måse and French mouette. We still see mews blended into the lexicon of some regional dialects.

In the Kwak̓wala language of the Kwakiutl or Kwakwaka'wakw, speakers of Kwak'wala, of the Pacific Northwest and my family, gulls are known as t̕sik̕wi. Most folk refer to gulls from any number of species as seagulls. This name is a local custom and does not exist in the scientific literature for their official naming. Even so, it is highly probable that it was the name you learned for them growing up.

If you have been to a coastal area nearly everywhere on the planet, you have likely encountered gulls. They are the elegantly plumed but rather noisy bunch on any beach. You will recognize them both by their size and colouring. 

Gulls are typically medium to large birds, usually grey or white, often with black markings on the head or wings. They typically have harsh shrill cries and long, yellow, curved bills. Their webbed feet are perfect for navigating the uneven landscape of the foreshore when they take most of their meals. 

Most gulls are ground-nesting carnivores that take live food or scavenge opportunistically, particularly the Larus species. Live food often includes crab, clams (which they pick up, fly high and drop to crack open), fish and small birds. Gulls have unhinging jaws which allow them to consume large prey which they do with gusto. 

Their preference is to generally live along the bountiful coastal regions where they can find food with relative ease. Some prefer to live more inland and all rarely venture far out to sea, except for the kittiwakes. 

The larger species take up to four years to attain full adult plumage, but two years is typical for small gulls. Large white-headed gulls are typically long-lived birds, with a maximum age of 49 years recorded for the herring gull.

Gulls nest in large, densely packed, noisy colonies. They lay two or three speckled eggs in nests composed of vegetation. The young are precocial, born with dark mottled down and mobile upon hatching. Gulls are resourceful, inquisitive, and intelligent, the larger species in particular, demonstrating complex methods of communication and a highly developed social structure. Many gull colonies display mobbing behaviour, attacking and harassing predators and other intruders. 

Certain species have exhibited tool-use behaviour, such as the herring gull, using pieces of bread as bait with which to catch goldfish. Many species of gulls have learned to coexist successfully with humans and have thrived in human habitats. Others rely on kleptoparasitism to get their food. Gulls have been observed preying on live whales, landing on the whale as it surfaces to peck out pieces of flesh. They are keen, clever and always hungry.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016


Dragonflies, from the order Odonata, have been around for over 250 million years. The most conspicuous difference in their evolution over time is the steady shrinking of their wingspan from well over two and a half feet down to a few inches.

Voracious predators, today they dine on bees, wasps, butterflies and avoid the attentions of birds and wee lizards -- but back in the day, they had a much larger selection of meals within their grasp.

Time has turned the tables. Small lizards and birds who today choose dragonflies as a tasty snack used to be their preferred prey.

Sunday, 18 December 2016


A very pleasing example of the Ammonite Acanthohoplites bigoureti (Seunes, 1887). Lower Cretaceous, Upper Aptian, from a riverbed concretion, Kurdzhips River, North Caucasus Mountains, Republic of Adygea, Russia. 

Geologically, the Caucasus Mountains belong to a system that extends from southeastern Europe into Asia and is considered a border between them. The Greater Caucasus Mountains are mainly composed of Cretaceous and Jurassic rocks with the Paleozoic and Precambrian rocks in the higher regions. 

Some volcanic formations are found throughout the range. On the other hand, the Lesser Caucasus Mountains are formed predominantly of the Paleogene rocks with a much smaller portion of the Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks. 

The evolution of the Caucasus began from the Late Triassic to the Late Jurassic during the Cimmerian orogeny at the active margin of the Tethys Ocean while the uplift of the Greater Caucasus is dated to the Miocene during the Alpine orogeny.

The Caucasus Mountains formed largely as the result of a tectonic plate collision between the Arabian plate moving northwards with respect to the Eurasian plate. As the Tethys Sea was closed and the Arabian Plate collided with the Iranian Plate and was pushed against it and with the clockwise movement of the Eurasian Plate towards the Iranian Plate and their final collision, the Iranian Plate was pressed against the Eurasian Plate. 

As this happened, the entire rocks that had been deposited in this basin from the Jurassic to the Miocene were folded to form the Greater Caucasus Mountains. This collision also caused the uplift and the Cenozoic volcanic activity in the Lesser Caucasus Mountains.

The preservation of this Russian specimen is outstanding. Acanthohoplites bigoureti are also found in Madagascar, Mozambique, in the Rhone-Alps of France and the Western High Atlas Mountains and near Marrakech in Morocco. This specimen measures 55mm and is in the collection of the deeply awesome Emil Black.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Tuesday, 13 December 2016


Carlsbad Caverns National Park is in the Chihuahuan Desert of southern New Mexico. 

It features more than 100 caves. The Natural Entrance is a path into the namesake Carlsbad Cavern. Stalactites cling to the roof of the Big Room, a huge underground chamber in the cavern. Walnut Canyon Desert Loop is a drive with desert views. 

Rattlesnake Springs, a desert wetland, attracts reptiles and hundreds of bird species. If you find yourself down in New Mexico it is well worth a visit. 

Definitely bring your camera and some hiking boots with good ankle support and grip for the slippery rock you will need to traverse to explore these beauties in all their glory.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Friday, 9 December 2016


Carnotaurus sastrei, a genus of large theropod dinosaur that roamed, Argentina, South America during the Late Cretaceous period, 72 to 69.9 million years ago.

This fellow (or at least his skull) is on display at the Natural History Museum in Madrid, Spain. For now, he is the only known genus of this species of bipedal predator.

The skull is quite unusual. Initially, it has a very marine reptile feel (but make no mistake this guy is clearly a terrestrial theropod). Once you look closer you see his bull-like horns (from whence he gets his name) that imply battle between rivals for the best meal, sexual partner and to be the one who leads the herd.

I'll be interested to see his cousins once more specimens of the genus are unearthed.

Thursday, 8 December 2016


Craneo Diplodocus carnegiei, Morrison Formation, Jurassic

Wednesday, 7 December 2016


Nuns stepping out from the palace, Cordoba, Spain
A group of nuns stepping out in Cordoba, Spain. The nuns earn their living selling sweets and confections using recipes handed down from the Romans and Moors. Many convents are closing because they have fewer nuns so this art may one day be lost.

The procedure for buying the sweets is archaic but charming. You enter the convent into a very small room with a lazy Susan installed on the wall. 

While we did see some nuns in the street, many do not leave the cloister or appear in public. You never see the nun with whom you do the transaction since these are cloistered nuns who avoid direct contact with the public.

On the wall beside the lazy Susan will be a price list. You look it over and decide which sweets you want to buy. Then you ring a buzzer on the wall. After a while, you will hear the voice of a nun greet you and ask you what you want to purchase. 

You share your order and after a few minutes the lazy Susan will turn and you will find your order on it. You then put your money on the lazy Susan and turn it so that the nun can get it. If there is change, the nun puts it on the lazy Susan and you then can get your change.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Saturday, 3 December 2016


Sharks are a group of elasmobranch fish characterized by a cartilaginous skeleton, five to seven-gill slits on the sides of the head, and pectoral fins that are not fused to the head. 

Modern sharks are classified within the clade Selachimorpha and are the sister group to the rays.

While we often fear them — yes, they can eat you — they should fear us as we dine on them with shocking regularity. In lieu of Shark Fin Soup, a better choice would be investing money and time into their conservation. 

Thursday, 1 December 2016