Stuff I didn’t know

Road trip again. Ignore me if I’m beginning to bore you with my heretofore unexplored positivity. It’s not that I don’t care about the latest terrorist outrage in Brussels, because all I feel is a sad certainty in my bones that the situation is all too avoidable and a bit of a cultural own goal. If it were down to me, the politicians who laid the groundwork by supporting mass immigration from a hostile culture would be made to write out ten thousand times; “I must stop importing voters from incompatible cultures” and “I will not sell out my own people to gain short term political power” before being sent to their rooms without any supper. Permanently.

Nonetheless, Nashville is all booked, our ‘America the Beautiful’ National Parks pass has arrived and I’m avidly examining our options for the trek back westbound across the great divide. One thing I didn’t know about the USA is that up until the mid 1300’s it was home to a thriving culture. A civilisation that began to die out at the end of the Medieval Warm Period.

Called the Mississippian culture, it appears to have been of Mayan in origin (because Mississippian art has distinct similarities to middle Mayan, look it up) and spread north up the Mississippi and it’s tributaries from 600AD onwards to far as agricultural practices of the time would support it. Then as the global climate began to cool in the mid-14th Century prior to the Little Ice Age, this culture began to disintegrate, the population largely abandoning their ‘cities’ as their political structures began to fail along with their crops. Three to four hundred years later European settlers began to arrive in the area, finding only hectares of grassed over mounds and the mainly nomadic descendants of the Mississippians. The best example of these mound cities being the Cahokia Mounds near St Louis.

Now as I’ve said before, Mrs S and I are avid history buffs, she covers the more academic side, and I have instincts trained by years of tramping the English countryside and it’s plethora of Deserted Medieval Village sites, with all their lumps, bumps and crop marks punctuating otherwise deserted pastures. Which is why we’re spending an extra day on the eastern side of St Louis. She reading the books, me spotting the landscape and map reading then discussing our respective findings in the evening over a long drink. Because up until last night we’d never come across this culture, being brought up on the limited narrative surrounding the ‘wild’ (and some argue, mild) west. Which tends to pointedly ignore the French and Spanish influences in these lands (De Soto expedition and subsequent Spanish colonisation, the Louisiana purchase which the French had nicked off the locals whilst fighting British claims in the not so frozen north) before the main tranche of northern European settlers arrived. Which is all absolutely brand spanking new to me. There’s still this narrative about how wild and uncivilised North America was, yet for long periods North America was relatively civilised and colonised. Until it all fell apart in internecine warfare and crop failure from around 1350AD onwards. Which is stuff I previously didn’t know anything about. Well, not really. But which I’m quite looking forward to finding more out about.

Anything else? Well over at the professional pilots forum there’s talk of more debris, possibly from MH370 washing up on the South African shoreline. Which confirms that it went down in the Southern Indian Ocean. Although that’s a big deep piece of water, perhaps too big and deep for even the modern wonders of sidescan sonar to explore with any accuracy. I did once ask a respected Oceanographer about the definition of sonar at those depths. His answer surprised me. At the depths and densities of water found at 3000 metres, sidescan sonar definition can be as much as ten metres between contours. No wonder the search teams are planning on giving up in June this year.

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