Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress // Public domain
Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress // Public domain

Show & Tell: Powder Horn Map

Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress // Public domain
Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress // Public domain

This powder horn, which likely dates to sometime between 1757 and 1760, is inscribed with a map of the Hudson and Mohawk river valleys. Details visible on the horn include Lakes Champlain and Ontario, smaller towns and forts, and decorative depictions of boats and houses. New York City, represented as a simple skyline with boats sailing on an open sea in the foreground, appears at the bottom of the horn.

This beautiful object is an example of one of many types of decorated powder horns made in the 18th and early 19th century to hold the gunpowder used to fire muskets. Men etched diary entries on them, or popular rhymes, or names of hometowns.

Did frontiersmen who carried a map horn like this along with their muskets put the information to use while moving through the rapidly-settling wilderness? The Library of Congress writes that this is possible, but “it is more likely that the map images provided records or mementos of the areas that the owners traversed” (or, in the case of military-themed horns, “campaign[s] in which they were involved”). This horn, then, may have been a souvenir rather than a guide.

In a 1945 book about the J. H. Grenville Gilbert collection of powder horns, which Gilbert donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1937, Stephen V. Grancsay writes that we have numerous surviving examples of horns depicting this particular area of the country. This is because at the time, “the rivers and lakes of this region … were open paths of both warfare and trade.” Horns with maps of other colonial regions—Massachusetts and Pennsylvania—are rarer. 

American powder horns were usually made using horns from cows, bullocks, or oxen, selected for their beauty and size. If well-made and cared for—caulked around the wooden bottom plug with hemp or tallow; fitted with a precisely-carved wooden stopper—a horn was capable of keeping powder dry even under wet field conditions. Men wore them on a strap over their shoulders, so that they dangled at their sides.

Many who needed horns made them at home, but there was a trade in fancier specimens. Professionally made horns were often, Grancsay writes, “dipped in a yellow dye to give the surface the appearance of amber,” or scraped thin and then stained with butternut bark to bring out their translucence. Engravings could be punched up by using various locally available dyes, and the whole thing could be preserved with shellac. It seems possible that this horn may have benefited from one or more of these processes, since it’s still so beautifully legible.

Peter Force, a 19th-century politician and mayor of Washington, D.C. who was an avid and influential amateur archivist and accumulator of early Americana, collected this horn along with several others. The Library of Congress bought the group in 1867, along with the rest of Force’s vast collection; the Library now holds eight map horns total

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Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Utility Workers May Have Found One of Rome’s First Churches
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

The remains of what may have been one of Rome’s earliest Christian churches were accidentally discovered along the Tiber River during construction, The Local reports. The four-room structure, which could have been built as early as the 1st century CE, was unearthed by electrical technicians who were laying cables along the Ponte Milvio.

The newly discovered structure next to the river
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

No one is sure what to make of this “archaeological enigma shrouded in mystery,” in the words of Rome’s Archaeological Superintendency. Although there’s no definitive theory as of yet, experts have a few ideas.

The use of colorful African marble for the floors and walls has led archaeologists to believe that the building probably served a prestigious—or perhaps holy—function as the villa of a noble family or as a Christian place of worship. Its proximity to an early cemetery spawned the latter theory, since it's common for churches to have mausoleums attached to them. Several tombs were found in that cemetery, including one containing the intact skeleton of a Roman man.

Marble flooring
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

A tomb
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma1

The walls are made of brick, and the red, green, and beige marble had been imported from Sparta (Greece), Egypt, and present-day Tunisia, The Telegraph reports.

As The Local points out, it’s not all that unusual in Rome for archaeological discoveries to be made by unsuspecting people going about their day. Rome’s oldest aqueduct was found by Metro workers, and an ancient bath house and tombs were found during construction on a new church.

[h/t The Local]

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Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen
Scientists Just Found the Oldest Known Piece of Bread
Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen
Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen

An old, charred piece of long-forgotten flatbread has captured the interest of archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians around the world. Found in a stone fireplace in Jordan’s Black Desert, this proto-pita dates back 14,400 years, making it the oldest known example of bread, Reuters reports.

To put the significance of this discovery in context: the flatbread predates the advent of agriculture by 4000 years, leading researchers to theorize that the laborious process of making the bread from wild cereals may have inspired early hunter-gatherers to cultivate grain and save themselves a whole lot of trouble.

“We now have to assess whether there was a relationship between bread production and the origins of agriculture,” Amaia Arranz-Otaegui, a researcher with the University of Copenhagen, told Reuters. “It is possible that bread may have provided an incentive for people to take up plant cultivation and farming, if it became a desirable or much-sought-after food.”

A report on these findings—written by researchers from the University of Copenhagen, University College London, and University of Cambridge—was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It was once thought that bread was an invention of early farming civilizations. A 9100-year-old piece of bread from Turkey was previously regarded as the oldest of its kind. However, the Jordanian flatbread was made by a group of hunter-gatherers called the Natufians, who lived during a transitional period from nomadic to sedentary ways of life, at which time diets also started to change.

Similar to a pita, this unleavened bread was made from wild cereals akin to barley, einkorn, and oats. These were “ground, sieved, and kneaded prior to cooking,” according to a statement from the University of Copenhagen. The ancient recipe also called for tubers from an aquatic plant, which Arranz-Otaegui described as tasting “gritty and salty."

[h/t Reuters]

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