Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Vindolanda 2013 - Day Two

I have been coming to Vindolanda every spring for the past six years.  Each year I bring a small bottle of sunscreen.  It is still 90% full, as the weather usually alternates between dreary and drippy.  But today by gosh I slathered the stuff on with enthusiasm.

When we are assigned an area to dig it is generally with some particular questions in mind. Here is our current assignment:

On the far left peeking out from behind the wheelbarrow is the wall of the fort.  The mounded up earth adjacent to it is what is called the rampart.  It acted as internal support for the walls and gave access to soldiers who were manning the wall.  In theory the rampart was a wide clear area.  But in the late Roman era there were all sorts of buildings, ovens and other structures edging out onto the rampart area.  The fort was crowded as (presumably) the civilian population from the now abandoned village had moved inside.  So amoung other things we really don't know what that line of big flagstones was all about.  Pete and I are excavating what should be the ring road around the inside of the rampart.  Our current excavations go to the right off and back from the yellow bucket. 

The dark murky soil does not resemble roadway yet.  It in fact gives you vivid images of just what was squelching  around the toes of late Roman and post Roman inhabitants.  

And down in the soil we find things like this:

A rather nice pottery vessel, broken, coming up.

This image pretty much explains itself.  Sheep I think.

Another nice broken pot, of the type called Samian ware.  

But some things look the same one millenium to the next.  Even 1800 year old glass still looks like glass.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Vindolanda 2013 - Day One

A day of brisk winds and sun alternating with rain and hail.  But work went on uninteruppted.

Today most of the team was assigned to de-turfing...removing the grass and its roots to start the careful study of the archeology underneath.  But my mate Pete and I drew a different duty.  It fell to us to define the extent of a "robber trench".

Robber trench is a generic term encompassing early, sketchily documented digs by 19th century antiquaries as well as ongoing raids by local farmers looking for convenient, well cut building stones.  There are a lot of damned nice barns and sheds in this part of the world.

In particular there were thoughts that our area had been explored by diggers either in the 1830s or the 1930s.

This may seem unpromising work but there were artifacts to be found, especially a batch of broken red Roman roof tiles.  And, our trench butted up against the 213 AD fort wall.  It is fun being able to work in the vicinity of such a substantial structure.

As we closed in on the end of the trench we ran across a series of odd wooden stakes.  Crude, they seemed to have no clear purpose.  They were not Roman....anything organic from that era would not survive in this condition.

It was not clear just what they were, but as they were clearly not ancient eventually one came out...

It appears to be the equivalent of a giant tent stake!  Crudely fashioned from a sapling it likely held up some sort of tarp or canopy in the 1830s excavation.

Elsewhere on the site......

Here is a worked stone rebuilt into a latter, rather shoddy wall.  The incised area may have held some sort of painted plasterwork.

And kind of a cute little detail..some Roman tiles when fired developed odd colored lines from uneven heat.  An accidental design flourish!

Favorable forecast for the morrow...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Boots on the Ground, Pint on the Bar

Safe arrival at the Twice Brewed Inn.  Too tired to say much more other than on a brief stroll I encountered howling winds, rain, hot sunshine and rain again.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Gone Diggin' 2013

"So, where's home?"

I get this question regularly when I work.

The answer is not straightforward.

Is home where I live?  Yes, but since I mostly work in another community and the kids are now all out of school, I don't feel as much a part of my "home" town as I once did. I sleep there.  I go for walks.  I run into people at the grocery store.

Is it where I work?  For sure the ER is an intense place, literally life and death at times. When the pace permits there are so many interesting people and stories.  But as I see my projected retirement date start to peek over the horizon I also see the peril in proclaiming that work is home. Too many hard working physicians retire and become shadows of themselves.  Golf and fishing are not substitutes.  Those blessed with cute grandchildren seem to do better.

Is home the place where my imagination wanders off to in idle moments?  To some extent.  It is a wide open country....

Is home the place you came from?  That will always be a part of you.

But I think that in the future home will be where my boots touch the ground.  I put off a lot of traveling in my days of hard work and raising children.  Spouse likewise.  Already there are some things I would like to see and do that simply will not happen.  I would have liked to travel across Russia on the Trans Siberian railroad, preferably as part of a circumnavigation of the globe.  I am now closer to 60 than to 50.  I don't think we would be up for the challenge.

Ah well, for the next little while the question is easier.  I am off to England.  Home will be my favorite pub the quirky Twice Brewed Inn.  Updates from the excavations will start when jet lag abates and when I can master the implausible trick of getting 21st century WiFi in an 17th century stone building made of pilfered 2nd century Roman stones.

Home will be where my boots touch the ground.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Officer Squirrel.....

Red Squirrel Officer (Northumberland)
Join us
Protect local wildlife
Salary: Salary scale starts at £18,991 plus pension contribution 
(3 year contract)
Closing date: Monday 21st November 2011
An experienced wildlife advisor is needed to deliver grey
squirrel control planning, funding and monitoring appropriate
to defined  red squirrel conservation needs in Northumberland.       
This is a real job posting.  Or rather it was, note the expiration date.  Northumberland is one of
the last strongholds of Red Squirrels in the UK.  I am always on the lookout as I walk to the
site in the mornings, as I understand that is the best time to spot them.  So far...nothing.

But if I am so fortunate you can bet I will log on and mark my siting on this fascinating
squirrel map of Northern England!  Yes, we are watching you!

Although I in general have an aversion to thieving rodents I am prepared to make an 
exception for those with Spock ears.  And they do seem to need our help.

Save the Red Squirrels

And according to Prince Charles:   HRH Patron of the Reds

Monday, April 22, 2013


Having given it a bit of thought I cannot come up with many animals whose names have entered the common speech as an adjective.  Other than of course, Jumbo.

Jumbo was sort of a rock star in his day.  According to his wikipedia page he was born in 1861 in present day Mali.  He was sent to a zoo in Paris for a while then in 1865 transferred to the London Zoo where he was quite the favorite of the children.  His name is likely a variant of the Swahili word jumbe, meaning chief.

The flamboyant showman P.T. Barnum purchased Jumbo in 1882.  Barnum was never shy about publicity and Jumbo related advertising is fairly common, including this patent medicine trade card of the era.
"..Jumbo too, while not a lady.." presumably refers to the slightly inconvenient male gender of the prized pachyderm.  On the reverse side P.T. Barnum claims that "My equestrians and teamsters all say that Centaur Liniment is the best remedy for stiff joints, wounds and lameness that they have ever used".

Here is more from P.T. on the subject of elephants and liniment, from an 1886 Centaur Liniment almanac.

One wonders if the little elephant pictured was the one known as Tom Thumb.  If so it would seem an ill omen.  In 1885, according to the ever truthful and never known to fib Mr. Barnum, Jumbo was struck and killed by a locomotive while trying to save Tom Thumb from danger. 

The marvelous website Roadsideamerica, to which I have linked before, has a nice account of what became of Jumbo post mortum, including this photo of the great elephant's ashes which reside in a peanut butter jar in the Athletic Director's office of Tuft's University.  It is said that rubbing it brings good luck to their teams.
Dust to dust, ashes to ashes, and an animal whose very name has become the definition of large now fits in a glass jar on a shelf*.

*although I understand that his bones are in the New York Museum of Natural History somewhere.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Giant Mouse Update - Spring of 2013

It has been a while since I checked up on my old pal, the Mouse variously known as Murray or as  Big D K 6.  I swung by the other day and noted quite a few changes....

He is still on display outside The Red Zone bar, but has been moved.  He has turned his rodent rump on the outside world and now watches over their parking lot.  He also has a few new accessories.

A glowing yellow cheese is duct taped into his previously threatening paws.

He wears a Green Bay Packers cape over his fading emerald body suit paint job.  The overall effect is rather "Mexican Wrestler" in my opinion.

Fiberglass is a durable material but it is not entirely immune to the elements.  Notice how previous layers of paint are peeking through?

And of greater concern, hoodlums and/or drunkards seem to have damaged his tail!

It takes effort and a little money to maintain our culture so I hope the Red Zone folks take notice and do a little spruce up.  Much as I enjoy ever increasing layers of kitch we have to look to the fundamentals as well.  Hopefully Big D K 6 will stand proud and strong for many years to come!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Checking the Rear View Mirror

My dad is a very good man.  What virtues I have I mostly got from him.  Some of them directly.  He had the work ethic one would expect coming off of an old time farm.  I am almost that hard working and can say with pride that my sons appear to have inherited a bit of this as well.

A few of my defining qualities probably developed as an opposite, a counter point to my father.

I saw him practice medicine with compassion and skill for decades but make relatively little money in the process.  He was just too nice a guy to bill people.  He was just too trusting to suspect anyone of ulterior motives.  He was a great saver and a lousy investor. He was in many ways still the archetype of an old time country doctor.  I don't know if he ever took chickens in payment but it would not surprise me.  Come to think of it we did eat chicken pretty regularly when I was growing up.

In any event, be it virtue or vice I am in business matters considerably more resolute.

Maybe that is why when I was a worldly 19 year old my father asked me to come car shopping with him.

Growing up as he did with horses, then Model Ts, he had a serious love of cars.  The bigger and more chrome laden the better.  He was a used car salesman's dream customer.

We walked around the car lot the three of us.  My father wide eyed, guileless and smiling, myself a lanky, loping college student, and the car salesman whose appearance I have forgotten.

Dad found something he liked, a yellow Dodge a few years old.  I think it was priced at $4,000.

"Dad, offer him three and a half."

My father was taken aback....."Really?" he asked.

We drove off the lot, having spent considerably less than four grand.  And it turned out to be a pretty good car.  After long years of service one of my brothers banged it up to the point of no return.

My father is now 91 years old.  His health is frail and his memory mostly gone.  This is not all bad, he has had the good fortune to selectively forget all the difficult parts of his life first, remembering the best.

Today my 19 year old son asked me to go car shopping with him.  It will be his first vehicle.

I am not going to do his negotiating for him but I do feel an obligation to offer up advice for preliminary car shopping.

-Don't discuss price range.
-Don't discuss trade ins or financing.
-Car salesmen will always ask-usually it is their third question-what you do for a living.  He can sure tell them that he works in a brewery.  But when I am asked I just vaguely mention that I am a writer.  It is no less true than saying I am a physician and gives me a little more negotiation room.
-Figure out what it will cost to drive....just how many hours of work will it take to fill that tank?
-And when final haggling is in order remember that car salesmen need to make a living too.  Find that price that makes both parties feel ok.  (Remembering that a dealership should have an interest in your future business!)

Of course in the end he will buy what he wants.  Your first car, or in this case truck,  is a matter of the heart.  Only so much cold calculation can factor into it.

Hopefully he will end up with a keeper, one that will serve him well for many years.

But if he was paying attention perhaps his next car purchase will be more of a strictly business transaction!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Cleopatra's Needle" as a patent medicine ad and as it stands today.

Back when I was running on about obelisks I mentioned that one had been moved to New York's Central Park amid much hoopla.  Hoopla, you say?  Why any public excitement was exploited by the crafty advertisers of 19th century patent medicines and this was no exception.  Behold a trade card from the late 19th century:

Vaseline is of course still being manufactured, one of the very few patent medicines to survive to the modern era.  Here is the same view today....the hieroglyphics do seem to have suffered a bit over the years...
The photo is from centralpark.org whose website is both candid and informative on the subject.  This particular obelisk has had the distinction of being, more or less, swiped twice.  First the Romans moved it from Heliopolis to their main settlement at Alexandria in 12 BC.  Of the diplomacy involved in it moving from Alexandria to New York City in 1879, well, given the current tensions between the US and Egypt perhaps the less said the better.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Grandview Boulder

Often on old maps you would see places where the cartographers didn't have much to depict.  Open ocean, deserts, terra incognito.  Sometimes they would just sketch in a bunch of dolphins, or a depiction of Ptolemy or some such.  To fill space you know.

Modern maps don't go in for that as much but there are still occasions where some "filler" is needed.

A map of the area near our cabin has lots of lakes.  There are trails for bikes, snowmobiles and ATVs.  There are roads and small towns.  But in one corner they seem to have been unable to come up with much of anything else.

So there is a notation for "The Grandview Boulder".

Here it is:

It is a rather nice rock, but really still....its just a rock.

Since these photos were taken the National Forest Service has put up a new information board.  It says that The Boulder is of impressive antiquity, some 2.5 billion years old.  And that the wavy lines in it are in fact "stromatolites", fossilized blobs of really ancient bacteria colonies.  I had never seen a stromatolite before... I guess they look like this:

If you are for some reason seized with a burning desire to see some good stromatolites The Grandview Boulder is the place to go.  But for something this substantial it is not actually very easy to find.  Go east from Cable Wisconsin on County M.  After Lake Namekogan you turn north on Namekogan Sunset Road.  Turn right on Taylor Lake Road/Old Grade Road.  It will be on the right side of the road in a couple of miles.

Don't try this in bad weather....these are the kinds of lonesome, muddy  roads that have defeated the Ambitions of Conquerors throughout history......

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Death of Fangorn

Back in early March I ran a post called  The Ents of Wisconsin.  I had while driving about encountered a mysterious, fog shrouded spot with what looked to me to be a Tolkienesque tree.

I was on my way elsewhere and did not have time to stop for a proper look see.  So on a mid April trip though the same area I thought I would stop in for another peek.

The great Ent had fallen!

In the Lord of the Rings Ents are generally described as being aloof but honest, always working for the preservation of their forests.  But a few are said to have become sinister, to have dark, rotten hearts.

Maybe this was one of those...

Farewell Fangorn, you stood for generations of men, and so long as you held your vigil that housing project remained stymied, at bay.  I fear now that they will just make a bonfire of your remains and that men and machines will march onward.

Probably next time I drive past Saruman Acres will have grown considerably.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Toll House. No, not the cookies.

Here is a curious little patent medicine trade card:

If you magnify things a bit more you start to see all sorts of hidden images in the artwork:
In the lower left hand corner I am seeing a Lady, two horses, a cow and a bird.

Seems like good clean, low tech fun.  So that's what people did before television and smart phones!  Flip the card over and you can find a list of all the things you should be looking for.  Lets see...
Sorry 'bout slopping over the margains, I must have been distracted by the glaring announcement of THE SEXUAL SYSTEM AND ITS DERANGEMENTS.  Wonder how they 'splained that to the kiddies engaged in the 19th century equivalent of "Where's Waldo"?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Middle Earth comes to the Middle School

The endless winter continues, with another blizzard anticipated to hit us on April 11th.  Ick.

After many attempts to schedule an outdoor test of the world's first robotic dragster I finally cancelled altogether.  Serves me right for trying a project that was so weather dependent.

But at least the current after school class is going well.

I was initially skeptical but have to concede that running a Dungeons and Dragons group for middle school aged kids is rather.....interesting.

It involves lots of dice.  And many cryptic, scribbled notes.  I also use genuine ancient coins for authenticity.  At least a few worn bronzes and a couple of badly bashed about Roman denarii.  No gold, that would be a little too much reality.  Especially since one "hobbit-thief" character is quite diligent about stealing things from fellow players.  And from me if he can get away with it.

All the kids actually get into and stay in character easily.  This makes for a fun game.

Of course, being middle schoolers they are astonishingly disorganized.  They all talk at once.  They argue with each other.  This makes them very prone to misadventure in the "world" I have created for them.  Shamefully they were recently routed and driven off in disarray by a handful of giant ticks.  Not especially heroic imho.

They are Nerds.  And Nerd Proud at that.  So I figured we should go for the full Gamer Nerd experience.  Instead of the usual nutritious granola snacks and milk I asked for something special for the group.

Surprisingly, I got it too!

Cheetos and Mountain Dew.  That's what I'm talkin' about.

Monday, April 8, 2013

More History in the Cards - a la Vuelta!

My mother in law, now departed, was a bit of a pack rat.  I think she was the one who gave me a stack of unusual patent medicine trade cards.  They are from the H.K. Wampole company of Philadelphia, and pitch a product called Wampole's Preparation.  Or, since most of these are in Spanish, Preparacion de Wampole.

These are odd ball cards.  They are of better than average quality, with some really nice images.

(The back of this card describes how much children like the taste of the stuff.  Probably it was not the basic ingredient, cod liver oil.  The cherry flavoring might have been popular.  After a while the significant alcohol content might have been appreciated.)

But I like these cards because they attempt to address topical issues of the day.  Consider this one:

A la Vuelta translates from the Spanish as "around", so I at first thought the entire series was devoted to notable happenings.  But it probably just means: "turn the card over and read about our product".

The back of this one also has the following information: (choppy Google Translation)

"Zeppelin airship. Count Zeppelin of Germany, made a remarkable journey in his airship in May, surpassing anything previously done with similar balloons. Personally directing his new giant zeppelin II. Toured 850 miles in 37 hours. The same Count remained at the helm, assisted by two engineers and a crew of seven men aboard. Declares that his balloon can travel two thousand miles and bear arms and ammunition."

I must admit, this is a bit of a puzzler.  Early zeppelin trials were indeed undertaken over Lake Constance on the German-Swiss border.  That fits the scene.  (In fact the first few zeppelin flights were launched from a floating hanger....that way they could direct the launch to accomodate favorable winds by moving the hanger!")

But this image and the record of early zeppelin flights do not seem to match up.

Here, is a nice history with photos covering early zeppelin flights.  If the "zeppelin II" refers to the LZ-2, well, it made a single short flight in 1906 and cracked up on landing.  And it was a January flight, not in May.

Other possible candidates by time frame could be LZ-3, LZ-4 and LZ-5.  LZ-4 did get a bit of international attention when it managed a 12 hour flight in July of 1908.  A planned and much ballyhooed attempt at a 24 hour venture in August of the same year ended again in a crash landing and destruction of the airship.

Here the LZ-4 leaves its floating hanger getting ready for the 24 hour flight.  The rudder configuration is similar to the card image...but not spot on.

There were quite a few zeppelins  built in the period of 1900-1914. Only the LZ-5 and LZ-10 really looked anything like the "zepp" on the card.  LZ-5 had a short ignomious career, with the usual "downfall".  LZ-10 was a fairly successful passenger craft, but I find no mention of any historic flights in May of any of those years. And by the time they were doing regularly scheduled passenger runs the great novelty of zeppelins was much reduced.

So, who knows?  The copy writers probably just made stuff up.  Or perhaps anticipated the success of the LZ-4 flight and could not be bothered to change the text when it flopped.

The dating of this series of cards is problematic...a few have calenders in the 1905 to 1909 time frame.  An interesting time for the H.K. Wampole company.....their founder, H.K. himself, seems to have went crazy and drowned himself on the way to an asylum.  Afterwards some $200,000 of company funds were discovered to be missing.  

Never to be seen again.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Tech Review II - Travel Computer

My previous efforts to buy an inexpensive, reliable, light weight travel computer eventually established the fact that no such beast actually existed.  The folks who I talked with all just kept saying "why not get a tablet?".

Eventually I decided they were right.  But I had my criteria and I was not budging from them.

-light weight and compact.  Heck, otherwise I could just lug my laptop.
-real keyboard please, my fingers are designed for emphatic keystrokes.
-able to process photos and do at least rudimentary blogposts from, well, anywhere.
-cheap would be nice too.

And here is what I ended up with:

This is kind of a hybrid.  It is a tablet, an ASUS TF300T, but with a docking pad with useful features that sold me on the deal.

First of all, I got a good price at Best Buy.  (Note, current price is $399.)  As it happens there was some sort of promotion going on they threw in the docking station for free.  Free = good.

This gives a really nice battery life, as the pad and the docking station each have separate batteries.  The pad battery runs down first, then it draws off of the docking station.  Run time depends on what you are doing, but they claim you can get 15 hours off of this system.

The docking pad has a real USB port.  The lack of this feature soured me on iPads a bit.  I use the port for a wireless mouse which I find pretty helpful.  It is also nice to be able to physically link with an external hard drive for back up, and maybe to a printer once in a while.

The keyboard is not full sized, but if you disable the touch pad - and you really should - it is serviceable.  The docking station also comes with a slot for a full sized photo card.

I had never used an Android based system before, so there was a learning curve.  But I cannot emphasize just how much I prefer this to the Windows 8 laptop I tried earlier. Various travel handy apps just slide right on.  Skype, a currency converter, Google maps.

All this is positive, and on the negative side I have found very little.  It is a little glitchy in regard to photo storage.  It really, really wants you to either upload to "Cloud" or keep it on the photo card even though there are plenty of virgin Gigabytes available.  Finally I just tucked a 2 Gig microSD card into the slot on the tablet.  For five bucks I have enough storage for something like 700 images.  I plan on copying the better images from camera to microcard on a daily basis.  That way if I lose the camera I will have most of my work in another format.  Oh, if I do manage to lose the camera I can also use the pad as one....it has an 8 megapixel camera similar to my Canon Powershot.

Photo manipulation, basic cropping and such,  is a little clunky, but I will get used to it.

The screen of this, as with all tablets, is its Achilles heel.  I am told that the glass stuff they use to make swiping possible is inherently fragile.  Smudges pretty easily too.

When I was playing around with it I tapped a function key....and the darned tablet started playing Vivaldi.  Rather good sound quality too I must say.  I now have a play list, via the Pandora app, so I can relax while doing other work.  I carry a headset when I travel so I won't bother others.  These are handy for in flight movies too, I hate those cheap earbuds they give you.

Well the real test will be ahead, hopefully it does not let me down overseas.

Bottom line is that this might be a good option for you.  Mostly if you are in that "in between" status.  I am too old adapt to just wandering around with a teeny little SmartyPhone.  But I can still recognize useful tech when I see it, and barring surprises far afield, the TF330T looks to be the real deal.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roman Silver - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

When you first start excavating on an ancient site you can be forgiven a bit of "treasure hunting" mentality.  It is undeniably cool to find something as recognizable as a coin, and we are by long habit accustomed to thinking of such an object as having inherent worth. Of course most of the coins you pull out of the ground are worn out, corroded specimens that somebody dropped long ago, looked down at and thought "Do I really want to pick that up out of the muck?".

After you have been at it for a while you get more interested in how and why walls, pits, roads and so forth all fit together structurally.

But because I still get asked about coins pretty often I thought a brief word on the topic would be in order.

Roman soldiers generally were paid in silver coinage.  Bronze was for making change and gold was for investment level finance.  (Sometimes the troops would get a special bonus in gold to keep them happy, or get a payout in same at the end of their enlistment).

Roman silver coinage is a very complex topic, and I am about to display my knowledge and ignorance in equal portions.  But here goes:

First an example of "official" coinage:

(note please, these are all from an assortment of coins I have purchased here and there....everything we find at Vindolanda gets turned over to our supervisors!).

The above example is a denarius from Septimus Severus.  A rather "severe" emperor he did put out some nice coins.  The term denarius by the way lives on....the dinar is the official currency of 9 Arabic countries and the slang term "dinero" for money recalls this ancient currency.

This is a nice solid coin.  Good clean silver, well struck.  To visit the other end of the quality spectrum, check this out:

This is a "silver" coin from the rather dodgy emperor Claudius Gothicus.  His reign from 268 to 270 was just about low tide for the Empire.  The coinage was lousy looking copper with a faint trace of low grade silver on top.  This was an era of hyper inflation and economic collapse.  Bad coinage can be either a cause or effect of a bad economy.  It certainly did not do much to inspire confidence in Rome!

In between the extremes of sound coinage and poor excuses for money we have some interesting intermediates.  Here is a coin from the empress Juila Mamea.

This coin has some ok parts, but something is going wrong on the edges.  What we have here is what is called by collectors a "fouree" coin.  It has a base metal core.  The silver was applied by wrapping a fine silver foil over it, heating it up and striking it in the die. They presumably looked great on issue but over time wear on the high points shows the falsity within.  Nobody is quite sure if these were the work of criminal counterfeiters, corrupt local mint officials, or official policy by greedy emperors.  A detail on the wear points:

Julia Mamea was the mother of Emperor Severus Alexander, and the real power behind the throne during his reign.

Another odd category of Roman coinage are the so-called "limes" coins.  This is a reference not to the citrus fruit but the Roman term for limits, or boundaries.  It is theorized that way out on the periphery of the Empire it was difficult or perhaps unnecessary to supply high quality coinage.  Simple base metal versions of conventional coinage were just given a quick splash of silver.  When you see something like this:

You get the impression that nobody was even trying very hard.  It makes particular sense when you see it, as in this case, from an Emperor who generally had pretty decent coin quality.  (This is Severus Alexander 222-235).  Limes coins are common enough in some areas that it is assumed that they had a level of official sanction.

Pity the poor merchants of the Roman Empire.  They had little choice but to accept Imperial coinage generally, but no doubt were quite skeptical of individual coins that looked wrong or felt light.  The  practice of biting a coin to assess its quality comes down to us from ancient times.  Here is "Under Dog", a cartoon of my younger days keeping the tradition going!

You would imagine that we would find coins with various tooth marks and other "proof" marks on them.  And sometimes you do.  Here is an extreme close up of Julia Mamea's nose from the above coin:

Is the X a natural bit of damage?  Perhaps, but it sure looks to be in a rather sheltered area!

As to coins found on the site of a fort like Vindolanda, the quality is generally much better than what is found in the surrounding communities.  You could afford to cheat the merchants.  But start paying the troops in monkey money and your reign may be brought to an abrupt and unhappy end!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Stillwater, Minnesota

Stillwater is an interesting place.  Other than the military presence at Fort Snelling it was just about the earliest settlement in Minnesota.  And being right on the St. Croix river it had some nice bluffs for early brewery caves....

Alongside Main Street as it heads north out of town we find this stone wall with a bronze plaque at a wayside rest.  Looking closer we see...

This is near the site of "Tamarack House" the first settlement in the St. Croix Valley.  Joseph P. Brown built the log structure with the hope - never realized despite what the sign says - that it would be the first courthouse in the new Minnesota Territory.

The wall behind it is from the Knipps brewery which was established here in the 1860s.  It was a three, some sources say four, story building which of course had a cave.  You can see the cave a bit to the left of the historical plaque:

Nicely sealed up at some later date, the caves were said in 1870 to extend 60 feet back into the cliff, with plans to dig even deeper.

The Knipp brewery did not prosper, and the place was a private residence by the 1880s.

Oddly enough, as I drove back into Stillwater I noted another sealed up cave.  This one was right on the edge of downtown near Elm and North Main Street.

I could be wrong, but this looks to be too far from the Knipp brewery to be convenient to their use. There were two other major Stillwater breweries but they had their own caves which should make future appearances here.  So what was this?  One could always consider other uses for caves...wine, mushroom cultivation, cheese.  But it has the look of a brewery cave.  One theory I put forward would be that it might be a storage cave for an obscure brewery called Haase and Hermann that was known to exist circa 1875.  More research will be necessary here as these stones tell no tales.