AN ELEGY ATOP EVEREST, by Don Messerschmidt

The West Ridge: Cover to Tom Hornbein's
Everest: The West Ridge, 1964
What did the first few summiteers say when they reached the top of Mount Everest?
We barely know, for on the first three successful attempts between 1953 and 1963, the focus was more on getting mountaineers up there and back, alive, than fussing over what to speak for posterity.
The Brits were first, in 1953, followed by the Swiss in 1956, and the Americans in 1963. Here’s what the Brits and the Americans said and did on top of it all. They appear to have received the bulk of the press coverage back then.

The 1953 British Mount Everest Expedition
Long after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to summit Everest, Hillary described how elated, surprised, and satisfied he was with the achievement. They reached the top, close together, at 11:30 a.m., Friday, May 29, 1953. Though a lot has been written about those few high moments of long-lasting fame, we have no hint of what Hillary actually said while standing at the highest point on earth. In his autobiographical View from the Summit, he describes how tired they were, moving slowly upward, seeking “rather anxiously for signs of the summit.” And then, he saw the barren plateau of Tibet in the distance, and directly in front of him: The Summit.
Afterward, when word of their success flashed around the world, the international press groused loudly about Hillary claiming the lead during the few last steps to the top. In his book, however, Hillary carefully side-steps the fuss. As they approached the snowy dome, he writes, We drew closer together as Tenzing brought in the slack on the rope. I continued cutting a line of steps upwards. Next moment I had moved onto a flattish exposed area of snow with nothing but space in every direction. Tenzing quickly joined me and we looked around in wonder. To our immense satisfaction, we realized we had reached the top of the world!
Then, “In typical Anglo-Saxon fashion,” he says, “I stretched out my arm for a handshake, but this was not enough for Tenzing who threw his arms around my shoulders in a mighty hug... With a feeling of mild surprise I realised that Tenzing was perhaps more excited at our success than I was.
How Tenzing felt and what he said on top is written his autobiography Tiger of the Snows. Tenzing did something remarkable, shouting out in triumph and thankfulness at the top: “Thuji chey, Chomolungma” — I am grateful, Goddess Mother of the World!
In that moment atop the holy of holies, at 29,029 ft., Tenzing Norgay was the highest and happiest Sherpa in the world.
During their 15 minutes on top, Hillary photographed Tenzing holding an ice axe with a small Union Jack and the flags of Nepal, India, and the United Nations tied to it. But, alas, he forgot the obligatory photo of himself at the summit. No selfies.
More than anything else uttered that day on mountain, however, it is what Hillary said to George Lowe, the first expedition member he met after coming down from the summit, that will doubtlessly be remembered the longest—“Well, George, we knocked the bastard off!
The 1963 American Mount Everest Expedition
In 1963, six members of the AMEE became the third set of climbers to reach the peak, and now the search for words spoken on top takes on a whole new dimension.
On Wednesday, May 1, Jim Whitaker and Nawang Gombu topped out at 1 p.m., after ascending the same Southeast Ridge route the Brits had pioneered and the Swiss had followed. In Americans on Everest, the official account, author James Ramsey Ullman describes the scene:
Jim, in the lead, stopped and waited for Nawang Gombu Sherpa to come up to him. ‘You first,’ he said. ‘No, you,’ said Gombu. Then, the dome being wide enough, they walked side by side to its top. Beyond, everything fell away. And they were there.
Jim recalls slapping Gombu on the back, that they hugged each other, and how so “very, very cold” it was that their fingers and toes were numb. With the temperature hovering around minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit they didn’t tarry, but soon turned and started back down.
Three weeks later to the day, four more Americans summitted, in pairs. Barry Bishop and Lute Jerstad ascended the same Southeast Ridge route, while Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld pioneered the challenging West Ridge. In his book Everest: The West Ridge (1964), Hornbein writes that during a brief noontime chat by radio with Base Camp, Willi described the West Ridge as (abbreviated here):
a real bearcat! ... too damned tough to try to go back ... too dangerous ... absolutely no rappel points ... nothing to secure a rope to.
Talking into the mike while clinging precariously to the rock face, he looked down and up and concluded:
it’s up and over for us today ... we’re headed for the summit.
The West Ridge ascent made mountaineering history. It had never before been attempted, and never successfully repeated. And—leave it to the Americans!—everything said in radio chit-chat that day was recorded for posterity!
Both teams hoped to meet up on top at midday to celebrate their achievement together, but it didn’t happen. Instead, according to the summit chronology tersely encapsulated by Hornbein:
May 22: Barry Bishop and Lute Jerstad reach summit of Everest via South Col route at 3:30 p.m. Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein arrive three hours later up the West Ridge, then descend toward South Col. The two parties unite after dark and spend night out at 28,000 feet.
When Barry and Lute found no sign of the others on top, they started wearily back down toward the South Col. When Tom and Willi topped out around 6:30 p.m.—dangerously late for anyone on Everest—they found only fresh boot prints on the summit mound and the tattered, wind-whipped flag Jim Whitaker had put there on May 1st.
It was midnight before the two teams finally met up. Because it was too precarious to stumble on in the dark with dead flashlights, the four men huddled together in the snow at 28,000 feet and with few words survived what was hailed as the highest bivouac in mountaineering history, at that time.
Reflecting back on their top-most moments, Hornbein writes:
We felt the lonely beauty of the evening, the immense roaring silence of the wind, the tenuousness of our tie to all below. There was a hint of fear, not for our lives, but of a vast unknown which pressed in upon us ...
As oxygen-starved and exhausted as they were, however, no words could have been spoken as candidly in the moment.
All day long, support team members down at Advanced Base were scanning the summit through binoculars, and they kept the walkie-talkie radio on for any action from above. About 5:30 p.m. they caught a glimpse of Lute and Barry, but they neither saw nor heard from Willi and Tom. It wasn’t until late, around 7 o’clock, while Maynard Miller (one of the expedition scientists) was listening, that quite suddenly—"electrifyingly”—he later told Ullman for the record:
the radio came alive with Willi Unsoeld’s voice. He and Tom had just come off the summit, he said. They were a few feet below it. They were about to descend the Southeast Ridge. 

Willi’s words faded in and out of the static and howling wind then drifted back―

Faintly, very faintly. And it seemed to the incredulous Maynard that what he was hearing from up there was poetry....
 Willi was reciting the last lines of ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by the American poet Robert Frost:

'...I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before we sleep,
And miles to go before we sleep.'

Ever the gentleman, even at 29,000 feet,” writes Ullman, Willi had changed Frost’s original “I sleep” to “we sleep,” to include Tom; and those “promises to keep” were to his wife Jolene, that Everest would be his last “big mountain.”
Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods...’ has been described as “one of America’s most revered and recited poems,” known for its “moody pondering of mortality.” Like an elegy.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
                            (Robert Frost, 1923)
Sometime later, when Willi lectured about climbing the West Ridge, a member of one audience suggested either Willi or Tom could just as well have quoted the last three lines of another Frost poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’:
'...Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

ECS Nepal magazine (Kathmandu). print & online: ecs.com.np/features/an-elegy-atop-everest
Features ³ Issue 210 ³ May, 2019
Chomolungma, ‘Goddess Mother of the World’, is the Sherpa and Tibetan name for Mount Everest (Sagarmatha in Nepali). To date, over 4,000 people have reached the top, but few have done it with the same spirit and style as their earlier predecessors. Books quoted in this story are Edmund Hillary’s View from the Summit (1999), Tenzing Norgay’s Tiger of the Snows (1955, written in collaboration with James Ramsey Ullman), Tom Hornbein’s Everest: The West Ridge (1964), and James Ramsey Ullman’s Americans on Everest (1964). It was Steve Hendrix who called Frost’s poem a “moody pondering of mortality” in a January 1, 2019, article in The Washington Post, entitled ‘Robert Frost Wrote This Masterpiece...’ The two poems quoted here are Frost’s most popular―all the way to Everest!


BIG DOGS OF TIBET & THE HIMALAYAS - the book - is now available to avid dog fans, and others... many others, worldwide. 

An autographed copy is now priced at $30 + shipping. Interested in a copy? Send me a message (by Email or Facebook ~ http://on.fb.me/1fPZccY), with your address, and I'll tell you the total cost. Numbers are limited (for the autographed copy), so buy it now to be sure you get one. 

The photo at the right was taken on the day 'Kalu' became an international champion dog: 'Ch. Saipal Baron. New Delhi Dog Show, 1984. The photo was taken by the journalist S. Theodore Baskaran, and appeared (surprise to me!) in his 'Book of Indian Dogs' (New Delhi: Aleph, 2017 -- available on Amazon in hardback or for Kindle). 


Visitor Log Chronicled for the Denisovan Family Home

New studies write the history of a famous Siberian cave and unearth the oldest jewelry in the region.

By Nicola Jones / 30 JAN 2019 reprinted here under the Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0 license, from:   www.sapiens.org/evolution/denisova-cave-jewelry/

Tooth pendants (one pictured here), along with other artifacts discovered at Denisova Cave, mark the earliest evidence of human ornamentation—between 43,000 and 49,000 years ago—in northern Eurasia. Photo: Tom Higham/University of Oxford

An extinct branch of hominins called the Denisovans is one of the most elusive members of our extended family tree: So far there have been only four individuals found in a single Siberian cave. Now researchers have done the painstaking work of dating the fossils, sediments, and artifacts found in that famous cave, including what might be the first evidence for crafts made by our long-lost cousins.
The Denisova Cave in the foothills of Russia’s Altai Mountains has a long history of occupation and has proven a gold mine for anthropologists trying to untangle the relationship between hominin groups living in Eurasia hundreds of thousands of years ago. The cave—which has three chambers and is about the size of a modern four-bedroom home—was used as recently as the 1700s by a hermit named Denis, which is where it got its modern name (in Russian, “the cave of Denis”). Its earlier inhabitants have proven harder to pin down.
Researchers have been finding and studying fossils from this cave since at least the 1970s. In 2010, the genetic analysis of a fragment of pinky finger bone prompted the identification and naming of the Denisovans, a sister group to Neanderthals. The two split ways about 400,000 years ago. So far, Denisovan remains haven’t been confirmed anywhere else in the world, although DNA studies suggests that they once lived widely across Asia.
Lush vegetation now covers the hillside where the entrance to Denisova Cave lies. Photo: Richard Roberts >
Although thousands of tiny fossils have been found inside the Denisova Cave, many of these are from animals and only about a dozen individual hominins have been identified from bone and teeth—including three other Denisovans, three Neanderthals, and some unidentified hominins. Last year, genetic work revealed that one of the cave’s fossils is from the first-known hybrid of a Denisovan and a Neanderthal, news that won headlines around the world.
With so few remains and artifacts, and no fire pits, it seems that the people of the time preferred to live in the open air and only came into the cave periodically, perhaps during heavy rain, says Bence Viola, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Toronto. “There are a lot of unpleasant creatures in there: hyenas, bats, pigeons. It can be disgusting,” says Viola. The cave’s location in chilly Siberia has made it a good place for preserving DNA. “The Altai is nice and cold, and the caves are like big fridges,” says Viola.
But dating all the tiny scraps found in the cave has proven tricky because they are mostly smaller than a centimeter across and older than can be reliably dated using radiocarbon dating, which works best for things 50,000 years old or younger. “It requires a huge amount of investment from a range of different people and techniques, so it inevitably takes a long time and effort to bring it together,” says archaeologist and earth scientist Zenobia Jacobs of the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia.
Today two papers published in Nature lay bare the history of the cave. Archaeologist Katerina Douka of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, and colleagues, including Viola, analyzed results from a combination of techniques, including radiocarbon dating, genetics, and optical dating, to track fossils and artifacts. Optical dating works by measuring how much stored energy remains in some minerals, including quartz, from the last time they were exposed to sunlight. Meanwhile, Jacobs and co-authors used optical dating on more than 100 samples of cave-floor sediments to fill in the complete timeline of hominin occupation, along with clues about the area’s climate based on animal and plant remains.
Together the works suggest that hominins have been living sporadically in this cave for about 300,000 years. Fossils and DNA traces in the soil show both Denisovans and Neanderthals living in the cave between about 200,000 and 90,000 years ago, says Jacobs, with Denisovans staying as late as about 50,000 years ago. The overlapping dates make sense, given the presence of a hybrid in the cave. “You could say it was a Denisovan cave, and the Neanderthals just visited for a while,” says Sharon Browning, a biostatistician at the University of Washington, Seattle, who has worked on Denisovan remains but wasn’t involved with either new study. “Though the Neanderthal occupation appears to have extended for tens of thousands of years, so it was a long visit.”
Perhaps most exciting is some pendants made from deer and elk teeth, and bone points that might have been used to pierce clothing for sewing. These have been dated at 43,000–49,000 years old, making them the oldest such artifacts in northern Eurasia. Older jewelry has been found elsewhere—shell beads discovered in Israel are at least 100,000 years old. But these ancient pendants could possibly be the first evidence of Denisovans making arts and crafts. Alternatively, the jewelry could come from modern humans, who are known to have been living elsewhere in Eurasia at that time.
“The big question is: Who produced these bone points and pendants? That is something we just don’t know,” says Viola. “Sadly, the pendants don’t come with a name tag.”
 Nicola Jones is a freelance science journalist living in Pemberton, British Columbia.


Spiny Babbler of Nepal
by Don Messerschmidt in ECS Nepal magazine, Kathmandu, 'Spilled InkIssue 205, December 2018. 

"Birds from different species recognize each other and cooperate. Researchers show for the first time how birds from two different species recognize individuals and cooperate for mutual benefit."

When I read the lead above, on Sciencedaily.com, I was puzzled. Isn’t “for the first time” an over-statement? As an amateur but avid bird-watcher, occasional bird-writer, and a bird-book collector, I know that birds do very well at recognizing and cooperating between species. Most bird books on Nepal say so, dating back many years. A “first time” doesn’t apply to what’s already documented.
Bird Speak
Birds communicate in chirps, tweets and twitters, cries and shrieks, hoots and caws, clucks and crows. And they sing melodiously, especially to attract mates. Bird vocalization may express fear, alarm, or pure pleasure. A few species are noted for duet calls; that’s when a male bird sounds off immediately followed by his mate’s call, so soon that it seems like one voice speaking.
Not all bird sounds are vocal. While reading up on the subject, I learned new words, like ‘sonate’―the act of producing non-vocal sounds intentionally modulated by ‘non-syringeal structures' such as wings, tails and other feathers, as well as beaks and feet. Next time you see a Great Hornbill flying through the Chitwan forest, listen to its wings; such a sound as you might expect from a prehistoric paradactyl.
Babblers are one of the largest bird families in Nepal, with diverse, species-specific voices ranging from the ‘poo-koo-poth’ and ‘whert-whert-zzzzzz’ of Slaty-Headed Babblers; the ‘which-which-whichi-ri-ri-ri...’ of Common Babblers; the ‘tit tit’ or ‘chit chit’ of Red-Capped Babblers; the ‘cheer’ of Striated Babbler; and the ‘beat-you, he’ll-beat-you’ of Spotted Babbler, to name a few.
The exotic and elusive Spiny Babbler (Turdoides nipalensis), endemic to Nepal, Is an especially good mimic with a variety of squeaks, chuckles, and chirps. Its common call is a long, descending ‘tee-tar—tee-ter-tar—tee-tar’, preceded and concluded with a ‘preep—pip-pip-pip’. Its alarm call is a ‘churrrrrr.’ Other Babbler alarms sound like ‘pee-a-wee ‘of Black-Chinned Babblers and ‘pic-pic-pic’ of Red-Capped Babblers.
Why and how birds vocalize to communicate and cooperate in the bush is what the researchers featured in the Science Daily article have studied. They describe a type of Australian wren that not only recognizes individual birds from its own species but uses vocalization to form long-term partnerships with other species, both to help defend shared space and forage as a group.
In Nepal such a discovery is old news.
Mixed Hunting Parties
I first heard of mixed hunting parties in ‘Search for the Spiny Babbler: Bird Hunting in Nepal’ (1953) by S. Dillon Ripley, a world-renowned ornithologist. Ripley describes them as –
“groups of birds commonly found in forest and scrub Environments, roving in cooperative bands of mixed species, Profiting from each other’s foraging behaviors. Salim Ali, India’s Most famous ornithologist, once described a scene of ‘Babblers rummaging amongst the fallen leaves for insect food [who] disturb a moth which is presently swooped upon and captured in mid-air by a drongo...’and of a “woodpecker scuttling up a tree-trunk in search of beetle gallenes [that] stampedes numerous winged Insects... promptly set upon by a vigilant flycatcher or warbler’.”
In ‘Birds of Nepal’ (1976), Fleming, Fleming and Bangdel add Laughing Thrushes, Yuhinas and warblers to various babbler species in such parties. And Salim Ali, in ‘Indian Hill Birds’ (1949), describes flocks of six or more Quaker Babblers (also known as Nepal Babblers),
“invariably to be found among the mixed hunting parties of small Insectivorous birds that rove the forest. The birds hop from sprig to sprig, often clinging upside down, sideways or back to ground to peer into the angles of the leaf-stalks and various nooks and crannies for lurking insects...The clear, whistling, quavering song of four notes... is constantly uttered as the birds move about... The scattered members of a flock keep in touch with one another by a harsh, rather subdued ‘chur-r, chur-r’.”
In ‘The Book of Indian Birds’ (12th ed., 1996), also by Salim Ali, Jungle Babblers are described hopping about in flocks or ‘sisterhoods,’ rummaging on the ground together, chattering and squeaking, “which sometimes develops into Loud discordant wrangling.” This group behavior, Ali says, goes beyond foraging, for they are also known to band together to ward off attacks by owls, hawks or cats. It’s called “mobbing” in bird lore, combining their voices to repel predators.
Search Fulfilled
As Dillon Ripley searched for the Spiny Babbler in Nepal in 1947 (by special permission of the (then) Rana Prime Minister), he found one in a mixed hunting party while birding in low shrubs and heavy grass–
“Halfway down the slope and near a large bush, I heard a series of Low chuckles and ‘querr’ noises. I stopped short. There must be a flock of laughing thrushes or babblers about, the sort of birds That go around in small family parties, constantly talking to each other. After waiting carefully, stock-still for several moments, I saw a group of birds hopping about ... They were dark and bulky-Looking, as big as a thrush, and they flicked and flirted their tails as they hopped about, in the characteristic manner of the noisy nervous babblers or laughing thrushes.”
After collecting one as a scientific specimen, he described it as –
“A brownish bird the size of an American robin or an English Blackbird. The throat and upper breast were white, the rest streaked brown. The feathers of the upper side, particularly the forehead and crown, had stiff wiry shafts as did those of the throat. As this bird lay in my palm, I could think of no species of Laughing thrush known to me which it remotely resembled...
“It was not really until the next day that I began to ponder seriously over my new bird... Holding my prize and thinking about it, I began to turn over all the Indian species in my mind. What could this bird be? In the field a problem like this was not an easy one when books were not ready to hand, when there were several hundreds of species to choose from. Finally, the stiff wiry shafts of the feathers gave the bird away... it could only be the Spiny Babbler... a species that had defied scientists for years. None had seen collected for one hundred and six years, since 1843 and 1844...”
Despite their rarity in Dillon Ripley’s day, Spiny Babblers are fairly common in Nepal, though hard to spot. You may hear them babbling in cut over scrub brush and tangled thickets where they move about singly or in small scattered parties. Look for a grayish-brown bird with white on face and chin, streaked and pale below, and the tell-tale 'spiny' feathers, stiff and wiry, around the throat.


Sewing Needles Reveal the Roots of Fashion   by Jacob Pagano

www.sapiens.org/archaeology/fashion-history-sewing-needles /25 January 2019; reprinted here under the Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0 license.)

Humans have crafted garments for more than 40,000 years—and prehistoric tools suggest that warmth wasn’t their only concern.

The Inya River in southwestern Siberia winds through a landscape of striking seasonal changes. In the summer, crystal clear waters lap below alpine forests. As winter approaches, the river freezes, fierce snowstorms shroud the mountains, and temperatures plummet.
The climate becomes perilous to humans. But evidence of 50,000-year-old hunting tools suggests that Stone Age hunter-gatherers once inhabited the region. What was their secret to survival? Clothing.
Last year, in a cave above the Inya River’s middle reaches, scientists discovered 20,000-year-old sewing needles. Despite their prehistoric origin, the needles are sophisticated. Not only are they sharp enough to perforate thick animal hides, they possess a needle “eye,” which would have allowed early tailors to thread the needle and sew.
In a new study, published in the December issue of the Journal of Human Evolution, a team of researchers has pieced together what we know about prehistoric garment making using needle artifacts collected around the world, including from the site by the Inya River. Sewing, the analysis reveals, can offer a portal into human technology and cognition in the Upper Paleolithic, a period stretching from 50,000 to 10,000 years ago.
“Many of the needles we discovered were not simply used to manufacture clothes but for embroidery and ornaments. There was an

aesthetic role,” says Francesco d’Errico, an anthropologist at the University of Bordeaux in France and a co-author of the study.
In other words, prehistoric humans were not only concerned with finding warmth in wintry weather—they also may have dressed in order to communicate social identity, display tribal affiliations, and, indeed, to look good.
The very earliest evidence for clothing fabrication comes from an unlikely source: lice. Between 80,000 and 100,000 years ago, head and body lice became separate species. “This is an indication that individuals started wearing skins,” says Sarah Wurz, an anthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, who was not associated with the d’Errico study. “The lice lived in these, and therefore evolved into a separate species.”
We do not know which Homo species—neanderthalensis or sapiens—first pioneered the practice of wearing furs. But by 76,000 years ago, anthropologists believe that Homo sapiens were creating bone awls, a precursor to the needle, in South Africa. In the millennia to follow, artifacts suggest most prehistoric clothing production was occurring in the Northern Hemisphere, where cooler climes made extra insulation helpful.
For the new study, d’Errico and his colleagues amassed a database of eyed sewing needles found in the Northern Hemisphere, many of which date to the Upper Paleolithic period. They analyzed all of the needles in terms of both their form and function. Radiocarbon dating enabled the team to assess the age of various specimens.
The researchers found that humans developed eyed sewing needles in what is now Siberia and China as early as 45,000 years ago. In Europe, clothing fabrication likely began around 26,000 years ago; it probably began some 13,000 years ago in North America.
In addition, d’Errico and his colleagues uncovered evidence of extensive production sites for needles and garments. For example, at a site in the northern deserts of China, researchers extracted needles that were more than 10,000 years old, along with tools that may have aided their creation. Some of the needles are wide and flat, perhaps used to stitch thick hides. Others are narrow and circular, which may indicate they were used for delicate work such as embroidery.
The researchers also discovered that some of the world’s most sophisticated early stitch work may have come from North America. Sites in eastern Wyoming and central Washington yielded 13,000-year-old needles that have a striking level of refinement and suggest what the researchers call a “never previously achieved mastery” in needle production.
The incredible diversity of needle types, which differed by region, exhibited varied forms, and evolved over time, suggests two things. First, multiple societies created them independently. Second, people within these societies had tools to create different types of garments, which may have had cultural or aesthetic significance. In Western Europe, for instance, where anthropologists believe distinctive groups of humans frequently interacted, needle styles varied by site, suggesting dressing style might have delineated tribal affiliation.
There’s other evidence for decorative dress in the Upper Paleolithic. For example, in a previous project, d’Errico and his colleague Marian Vanhaeren, an anthropologist at the University of Bordeaux, identified shells on the remains of a child in the Madeleine Cave in France, a site they attribute to the late Magdalenian period, around 10,000 years ago. Tiny holes hint that someone stitched these ornaments to the child’s clothing, though the textile itself has since disintegrated.
* * *
 At the same time that the needle unleashed an aesthetic revolution in clothing, it might have signaled two other developments integral to human prehistory: the ability to travel long distances and the capacity for complex thought.
Anthropologists believe that around 50,000 years ago, the first Homo sapiens began leaving Africa and heading northward. “One of the burning questions in early human research is what technologies allowed people to move out of Africa and eventually colonize the rest of the world,” says Justin Bradfield, an anthropologist based at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, who was not associated with the study.
The new study does not definitively determine whether sewing needles enabled human migrations, but it hints that their role could have been crucial. After all, some of the most sophisticated specimens are associated with people in North America—who also happened to traverse the farthest distances across the harshest climates. Being able to sew warm garments may have opened the door to the New World.
In addition, the needles offer a clue to the cognitive abilities of people who lived during the Upper Paleolithic, which would later make possible architecture and forgery. “The production process involved in making and using needles involves many steps,” Wurz says. People would conceptualize the need for a tool, find the correct materials, produce thread, and sew clothing, she explains. “This long chain of thought and combination of different elements are evidence for complex cognition that typify all humans today.”

Jacob Pagano is a journalist based in Los Angeles, California.


The Library Book, by Susan Orlean

What a great book!

I read it cover to cover in two sittings. Simply superb...! 

Read on, then go to your library and check it out.

About The Book



“A constant pleasure to read…Everybody who loves books should check out The Library Book.” —The Washington Post


A dazzling love letter to a beloved institution—and an investigation into one of its greatest mysteries—from the bestselling author hailed as a “national treasure” by The Washington Post.

On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.

Why I Write

Susan Orleans points out in The Library Book (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2018, p.93) that she wrote this book to preserve memories of her childhood visits to libraries.

I convinced myself that committing them to a page meant the memory was saved, somehow, from the corrosive effect of time,” she says.

“The idea of being forgotten is terrifying. I fear not just that I, personally, will be forgotten, but that we are all doomed to being forgotten―that the sum of life is ultimately nothing; that we experience joy and disappointment and aches and delights and loss, make our little mark on the world, and then we vanish, and the mark is erased, and it is as if we never existed. If you gaze into that bleak­ness even for a moment, the sum of life becomes null and void, because if nothing lasts, nothing matters. It means that everything we experience unfolds without a pattern, and life is just a wild, random, baffling occurrence, a scattering of notes with no melody. But if something you learn or observe or imagine can be set down and saved, and if you can see your life reflected in previous lives, and can imagine it reflected in subsequent ones, you can begin to discover order and harmony. You know that you are a part of a larger story that has shape and purpose―a tangible, familiar past and a constantly refreshed future. We are all whisper­ing in a tin can on a string, but we are heard, so we whisper the message into the next tin can and the next string. Writing a book, just like building is library, is an act of sheer defiance. It is a decla­ration that you believe in the persistence of memory.

“In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library has burned. When I first heard the phrase. I didn’t understand it, but over time I came to realize it was perfect. Our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual’s conscious­ness is a collection of memories we’ve catalogued and stores inside us, a private library of a life lived. It is something that no one else can entirely share, one that burns down and disappears when we die. But if you can take something from that internal collection and share it―with one person or with the larger world, on the page or in a story recited―it takes on a life of its own.”#