Category Archives: History

Delving into the Cornish mining industry

Few industries have reshaped and redefined the Cornish landscape over the centuries as tin mining. The area is still synonymous with mining more than a decade after its last remaining mine closed down and put rest to the industry in the area. The first mining activity in Cornwall began in around 2150 BC, with underground mining taking hold from the 16th century onwards.

Ruined Cornish tin mine

Ruined Cornish tin mine

The rapid growth of the tin mining industry in Cornwall and neighbouring Devon made the region increasingly important economically from the 14th century, and in the late 15th century Henry VII came to see the area as a cash cow for the raising of revenues to fund the war effort against Scotland. Cornish miners, however, were none too impressed by the new taxes, prompting the Cornish Rebellion of 1497. From the 1540s, Cornish tin production came to outstrip that of Devon by a wide margin, and the introduction of open cast mining at around the same time fuelled a renewed boom in the industry.

Cornwall’s tin and copper mining industries really reached their peak in the 19th century, with metals exported from the thriving port of Looe. The modern-day Kit Hill Country Park is steeped in mining history, with its last mine – that of East Kit Hill – finally closing in 1909. As the 19th century progressed, increased competition from low-cost foreign sources would later come to drive the price of the metals down to such an extent that mining was no longer financially viable. By the end of the century, many Cornish miners had been forced to leave in search of work overseas. Thousands of Cornish workers made their way to the United States, South Africa and Australia, where their skills were in great demand.

Although Cornwall’s tin mining industry survived well into the 20th century, the collapse of the global tin cartel in 1986 sounded the death knell. South Crofty, the last working tin mine in Cornwall and in Europe, was closed in 1986. The mine was subsequently considered for re-opening after a rebound in tin prices, but the site continues to lay dormant. However, the legacy of tin mining lives on, and the industry has left an indelible mark on Cornwall. Geevor Mine, located between the villages of Pendeen and Trewellard, was acquired by Cornwall County Council in 1992 – two years after its closure – and parts of the site remain open to visitors curious to learn more about the industry’s history.


This post was contributed by Sam Williams, a freelance writer who is always on the lookout for places to visit for family days out.

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The Role of Marshes in Ancient City Sustainability: Recent Findings & Modern Applications

Until current research brought the prevailing opinions of leading archaeologists into question, it was widely believed that ancient cities in Mesopotamia sprang up alongside rivers. The theory was that river proximity allowed ancient city inhabitants to irrigate the surrounding desert, thus making the land arable. It was thought that cities such as Ur, which is believed to have originated near the mouth of the Euphrates River sometime in the 25th century B.C., were able to sustain themselves because of their ability to irrigate the surrounding areas with river water.

New Ideas

Interestingly, Dr. Jennifer Pournelle of the University of South Carolina has been pursuing a different explanation for the connection between water and ancient cities. She posits that early urban areas in Iraq were sustainable because of their location in marshes, not beside rivers.

Marsh Arabs in a mashoofThis might seem like a technicality, but it’s an insightful observation that’s changing the way archaeologists perceive the origins of ancient urban areas. If Iraq’s ancient cities thrived in lowland marshes fed by rivers, their inhabitants used resources in different ways than they would have if they had relied on irrigation to provide them with a way to grow food from the land. Pournelle and her research team have reason to believe that Iraq’s ancient southern cities were successful because of their location in marshes that easily sustained rice crops.

Digging Deeper

Together with an archaeologist from Pennsylvania and a geologist from Missouri, the South Carolinian research assistant combined excavation records, archaeological site maps, and aerial and satellite images to recreate an accurate representation of the ancient environment in southern Iraq. Pournelle’s work differs from previous efforts to study the ancient urban characteristics of this area in several ways. First, her efforts are the most recent after a short burst of interest from 1900 to 1950. Additionally, her work includes a comprehensive study of flora and fauna where previous archaeologists focused mainly on objects and architecture. And with recent developments in technology, she’s been able to combine research strategies to reveal a more holistic view of the ancient cities that thrived in the marshes of southern Iraq.

According to Pournelle’s work, marsh resources, wildlife, and environmental conditions were vital to the process of sustaining cities. These same conditions are also integral to our understanding of these civilizations and how they were able to function. In an interview published in a article, Pournelle confidently states that the key to these cities’ long-term survival, as compared with cities in other environments, was the wetlands. Marsh areas have their own distinct ecology, different from riverside environments, and those unique characteristics were vitally important to some of the oldest cities in the world.

Iraq and South Carolina

Connecting past and present, Pournelle points out some of the commonalities between ancient (and modern) Iraq and the current problems being faced in South Carolina. She thinks that the two  regions, which have  similar environmental characteristics, can inform us about important modern-day issues. Both Iraq and South Carolina are working to overcome problems with water resource management, pollution control, coastal and port development, and environmental management.

Pournelle plans to continue her research in Iraq, hoping to uncover ancient sustainability strategies that might have parallel applications in her own century and state.


Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes about education, online degrees, and what it takes to succeed as a student taking a bachelors degree program remotely from home. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

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Civilization, War and Climate Change

Over the years there has been growing debate over whether civilization and the environment are integrally linked. Many scientists believe this to be the case, as it appears that several major events in the history of civilization have had an impact on the environment, while major environmental changes have also altered the course of human history. For instance, the Mongolian conquest of the 13th and 14th centuries altered carbon emissions, whereas the Roman Empire flourished during a period of rich summers, and subsequently fell apart during a period of erratic seasons.

Illustration of a Mongol WarriorRecently, scientists have uncovered evidence that suggests the Mongolian conquest of large portions of Asia, the Middle East and Europe may have had an impact on carbon dioxide emissions. When the Mongolians invaded these areas, they often destroyed entire crops, severely affecting the regions’ agriculture. As a result, many farms were abandoned, allowing the forests to take over the land. Thus, during 13th and 14th centuries, these forests were able to grow markedly and absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide. The study claims that the total decrease in carbon dioxide during this period would be enough to cancel out one year of modern carbon emissions from gasoline. Yet it is important to remember that the Mongolian period of conquest extended across almost two centuries, which means that the actual yearly reductions were relatively insignificant in comparison with our current level of emissions. Nonetheless, the study does show that major events in human society are capable of having an impact in on the environment.

Another study, published in the Feb. 4 issue of Science magazine, also demonstrates the relationship between civilization and the climate. According to the authors of the study, the height of the Roman Empire occurred during a period when the growing season was consistently experiencing optimal conditions. Such conditions provided great economic wealth and the means to uphold the structure of the empire. Thus, the citizens of lands conquered by the empire were much less likely to show dissent.

Conversely, the collapse of the Roman Empire occurred during a period of erratic environmental conditions (perhaps partly due to agricultural overproduction within the empire) that yielded poor or mediocre crops. Without a steady food-supply, the empire faced dissent among its citizens. As the power structure was threatened within, the empire became susceptible to invasion from without and collapsed. In this way, environmental factors defined two of the largest events in Western history: the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.

Jared Diamond expounds upon this idea in his book “Guns, Germs, and Steel.”

According to Diamond, geographical determinism has defined the prosperity of American society. For instance, the vast natural resources of the country spurred our economy tremendously in the early days of the industrial revolution and our physical isolation from the rest of Western society has allowed us to remain prosperous after two world wars. Clearly, much of what makes America dominant is the physical geography that defines it as a nation.

Although the world’s booms and busts have been influenced by environmental factors, ultimately it seems that civilization has had a much larger impact on the environment. In the last 300 years, human population has increased by a factor of 10. Two worldwide wars have been fought and industrial growth has continued to increase in developed and under-developed countries at an unprecedented level. While many of these developments have been beneficial to civilization, the impact on the environment has not been so positive.

One of the negative effects brought about by civilization is the trend of global warming. Since 1750, human beings have steadily increased their production of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases. These gases are emitted into the atmosphere as by-products of fossil fuel burning, agriculture (in fertilizers and from increased numbers of livestock) and other industrial products, such as refrigerants and aerosols. The greater concentration of these gases in the atmosphere increases the atmosphere’s ability to retain heat radiated from the sun or earth’s surface. Thus, we are experiencing global warming: an increase in the average global temperature. This increase amounts to about 0.74 degrees Celsius. While a difference of less than one degree may seem inconsequential, the average global temperature has only shown an increase of six degrees Celsius since the ice age, which means environmentalists and scientists both have every reason to be concerned about the state of our ecosystem.

By drawing from scientific studies and historical examples, we can clearly see civilization is integrally linked to the environment. Like Genghis Khan, we haven’t undertaken our endeavors with the purpose of changing the environment. Nonetheless, the implementation of large-scale activities such as automobile use, airplane travel, and even war, have significantly impacted the environment and may have very serious consequences for civilization. However, unlike Genghis Khan, we have the scientific knowledge to evaluate and limit the negative consequences of our actions. Hopefully, we will be able to learn from history in time to make a difference.


Ashley Warner is a graduate student working toward her Masters in Conservation Biology. She currently resides in Washington state.

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U. S. Camel Corps

Few people know that the United States had a Camel Corps.  About 1836 Major George H. Crosman suggested to the United States government that camels could be used as pack animals in Florida during the Seminole Wars. Few persons in the government took this suggestion seriously but Senator Jefferson Davis was an advocate of this proposal and campaigned for it.

It wasn’t until 1855 that congress appropriated $30,000 to purchase camels. President Franklin Pierce gave his Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, the right to make the purchase and start the experiment. On June 4, 1855 Henry C. Wayne procured camels to be shipped to the USA. The camels arrived on the east coast of the USA in late January 1856 and were finally delivered by boat to Texas in mid May.

Camp Verde, Texas was the initial camp for the camel experiment. During the experiment the camels were utilized in several capacities. They would assist in surveying projects, serve as pack animals, and assist in the rescue of snow bound wagon trains. Most of the tasks that were attempted by the corps were successfully accomplished, usually quicker and with more ease than originally estimated. The camels proved to be sure footed on rocky terrain, able to cross hot desert sands and climbed mountains faster than other pack animals. They were able to ford rivers and showed themselves to be strong swimmers. Food and water supplies for the camels could almost be ignored as camels can go without food and water for days. When they did eat, any vegetation was acceptable to them. They also showed that they could withstand conditions that other animals could not tolerate such as long hot days in the sun, rainstorms and sandstorms and still continue to advance.

There were some disadvantages of the Camel Corps. The first thing that was noted was the terrorizing effect the foul smelling, odd looking, large animals had on the horses and mules. It was said that when the camels were first unloaded in Texas the horses and mules “went berserk”. This reaction was a mixed blessing. Indian ponies also avoided approaching them, making camel caravans safer than wagon trains. Another disadvantage was that US troops did not know how to handle this new animal. Specially trained handlers had to be imported along with the animals. While a camel is usually a docile animal it can be a very stubborn, aggressive animal. Camels can make mules look like obedient puppies. It can remember a ”personal affront” for a long time and just wait until he can get even. His way of getting even can be a bite, a kick or spitting green slime.

Lieutenant Edward Beale was the man put in command of the project and deemed it a great success. One thousand more camels were requisitioned by the army but the timing was wrong. A Civil war was threatening the nation. The southern states had formed the confederacy, electing Jefferson Davis as president. The union wanted to discredit Mr. Davis and direct monies toward the war effort, so the request was ignored.

The camels that were still owned by the army were sold, released or escaped to run wild. Feral camels were reported from time to time throughout the west and British Columbia until well into the 1900’s. The last sighting was reported in 1941 in Douglas, Texas.

From a paleontological perspective, it makes a lot of sense that camels would adapt themselves to conditions in North America—they originated here after all. Camels first appear in North America about 45 million years ago, and migrated to Asia and Africa about 7 million years ago. Then, like the horse, camels became extinct in their native continent at the end of the Ice Age.

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The History of Weathervanes

As weathervanes become increasingly nothing more than collector’s items – auctioned to the highest bidder both online and off – it’s easy to forget that once upon a time these were essential weather instruments. They were highly practical and no farm or village cared to be without one.

If you earned a living by working out doors – think farmers, think loggers, think gardeners – then you needed to know what the weather was likely to bring. For most of human history, you didn’t simply switch to the weather channel or flip open the paper to read the latest meteorological update. You had your own weather eye and weather sense.

A century ago, you couldn’t find a barn anywhere in the United States that didn’t have at least a rough vane atop the roof – a rooster maybe, whose beak would indicate from which direction the weather was likely to come. Or perhaps a trotting horse. Heck, there were even racing pigs!

But plenty of weathervanes were little more than arrows that were set up to swivel on a simple rod. They were made by people who were too busy working to worry too much about the décor of their rural landscape. And they needed to know what was going on with the weather. Could you hay tomorrow? Plant another bed of spinach? Make a weathervane and figure it out!

In truth, if you exclude rain gauges, when it came to reading the skies and making predictions, the weathervane was your best guide. And this was true from the days of ancient Greece – when many archaeologists believe the earliest weathervanes were made and used regularly – to colonial America.

If your a collector of these lovely and elegant instruments, you can take some pride in the fact that you are helping to preserve a critical piece of history. It’s well and good that we have far more complicated tools for figuring out in tomorrow we’ll need our umbrellas. But once upon a time we could do it with a lot less. Weathervanes – regardless of whether they are on display in our homes or still atop bars – keep us in touch with those old days.

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