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Archaeological Repository Showcases New York City’s Rich History

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Esquire Expand-o socks box and various shards

It’s hard to imagine New York without its noisy cabs, towering skyscrapers, and selfie-snapping tourists. But thousands of years before the city was paved over with concrete, vibrant communities were living on the land. Archaeological discoveries can sharpen the details of these people’s lives: A 1000-year-old dog grave, for instance, shows us that some pre-Columbian communities revered their pets, while fish bones from the 17th and 18th centuries trace inhabitants’ evolving diets. These are a few examples of the artifacts housed in the Nan A. Rothschild Research Center, an archaeological repository containing hundreds of thousands of New York City artifacts uncovered from all five boroughs.

On the morning of Wednesday, October 5, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission dedicated the repository, which is now open by appointment to scholars and researchers for the first time since it launched in 2014. Located beneath an office building in midtown Manhattan, the repository contains over 1500 boxes of artifacts spanning 8000 years of New York City history. Some items are ancient, like a spearhead used by a hunter during the Stone Age. Other artifacts, like the bones of a 19th-century carrier pigeon and an 18th-century sugar-refining tool that still smells of molasses, offer insights into a more recent time in history.

Amanda Sutphin, director of archaeology for the Landmarks Preservation Commission, identifies a green toy teacup (seen below) as one of her favorite items from the collection. “Just thinking of a child who played with it before we were born, you can get that sense of the past,” she told mental_floss.

Before relocating to the center, the objects had been scattered in different places throughout the city. “They had been kept in different conditions, so some of them were in fine condition and others were not,” Sutphin said. “We had to re-box things. Some had been gnawed by rats, some were moldy.” The collection’s current home is climate-controlled and organized in a way that makes it easy for visitors to access.

The dedication also celebrated the release of a new companion website to the physical space, where students, teachers, and the general public can browse through the hundreds of thousands of artifacts in the city’s collection. The landmarks preservation commission says this digital archive is the first of its kind built around the archaeological findings of a single municipality.

Despite the impressive size of the inventory, it still doesn’t account for every artifact that’s been dug up within city limits. “The problem is deciding what to keep,” Nan A. Rothschild, the Barnard anthropology professor the new research center is named for, said at the launch. “It’s hard to know what might be significant.” The project is still a work in progress, so that’s a question the archaeologists will continue to grapple with as new objects are added to the collection. You can see some highlights from the collection below. 

Bones from dog burial


Atlantic drill whelk shell and assorted other shells


Glass toy teacup, likely early 20th century


Wood, shell, and stone fragments


Stemmed projectile point


Small fragments of pottery


Box from "Conida's Bon-Ton Candy Shoppes," along with an assortment of pottery shards, stones, and bones


10-inch plate, circa 1780–1830

All images courtesy of NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission
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Tokyo Tops List of Safest Cities in the World, New Report Says
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When choosing a city to call home, some might weigh factors like affordability, potential for job growth, and even the number of bookstores and libraries. But for many aspiring urbanites, safety is a top concern. This list of the world’s safest cities from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) proves you don’t need to trade your sense of welfare for the hustle and bustle of city life—especially if you're headed to Tokyo.

As Quartz reports, the EIU assessed the overall safety of 60 major cities using categories like health safety, infrastructure safety, personal safety, and the cybersecurity of smart city technology. With an overall score in 89.80 out of 100 points, Tokyo is the 2017 Safe Cities Index's highest-ranking city for the third year in a row.

While it was rated in the top five places for cybersecurity, health security, and personal security, Tokyo's No. 12 spot in the infrastructure security category kept it from receiving an even higher score. The next two spots on the EIU list also belong to East Asian cities, with Singapore snagging second place with a score of 89.64 and Osaka coming in third with 88.67. Toronto and Melbourne round out the top five. View more from the list below.

1. Tokyo
2. Singapore
3. Osaka
4. Toronto
5. Melbourne
6. Amsterdam
7. Sydney
8. Stockholm
9. Hong Kong
10. Zurich

You may have noticed that no U.S. cities broke into the top 10. The best-rated American metropolis is San Francisco, which came in 15th place with a score of 83.55. Meanwhile, New York, which used to hold the No. 10 slot, fell to No. 21 this year. The report blames the U.S.'s poor performance in part on America's aging infrastructure, which regularly receives failing grades from reports like these due to lack of maintenance and upgrades.

Surprised by your city's rank? For an idea of how other countries view the U.S. in terms of safety, check out this list of travel warnings to foreign visitors.

[h/t Quartz]

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In 1909, a Door-to-Door Catnip Salesman Incited a Riot in New York
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In 1909, New York City businessman G. Herman Gottlieb was looking for a way to make a quick buck. He found it in a wooded section of Northern Manhattan, where wild catnip grew. After harvesting two baskets full of the plant, Gottlieb headed downtown to Harlem, intending to sell the product to residents with pampered felines.

As the history blog The Hatching Cat recounts, what Gottlieb didn’t know was that the neighborhood was also home to plenty of feral cats with voracious appetites. As Gottlieb made his way around the neighborhood, a handful of stray cats seized upon some leaves that had fallen out of his basket and began writhing and rolling around on the ground. Soon, even more kitties joined in, and “jumped up at his baskets, rubbed themselves against his legs, mewing, purring, and saying complimentary things about him,” according to an August 19, 1909 article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Gottlieb tried to frighten the cats away, according to The Washington Times’s account of the event, but the persistent animals wouldn’t budge. “All of them, rich and poor, aristocrats from the sofa cushions near the front windows and thin plebians from the areaways struggled mightily to get into the two baskets of catnip,” the Times wrote. Soon, Gottlieb found himself surrounded by somewhere between 30 and 40 cats, each one of them clamoring for his goods.

When he eventually spotted a policeman, Gottlieb thought he’d found an ally against the cats. Instead, Sergeant John F. Higgins promptly arrested Gottlieb for inciting a crowd. (“Why don’t you arrest the catnip?” Gottlieb asked him, according to the Times. “That is collecting the crowd. Not I.”)

Trailed by several cats, Higgins and Gottlieb made their way to a police station on East 104th Street. But when they arrived, authorities couldn’t decide whether or not the salesman had actually broken any laws.

“We can’t hold this man,” Lieutenant Lasky, the officer who received the arrest report, said. “The law says a man must not cause a crowd of people to collect. The law doesn’t say anything about cats.”

“The law doesn’t say anything about people,” Higgins replied. “It says ‘a crowd.’ A crowd of cats is certainly a crowd.” Amid this debate, a station cat named Pete began fighting with the invading felines, and, with the help of some policemen, eventually drove the catnip-hungry kitties out of the building.

Gottlieb was eventually released, and even driven home in a patrol wagon—all while being chased by a few lingering cats, still hot on the trail of his now regrettable merchandise.

[h/t The Hatching Cat]


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