Bury ’em High

PoulnabroneDolmen5Back in 1968, Clint Eastwood starred in a movie titled, Hang ‘Em High, about an innocent man who survives a lynching and then who returns as a lawman determined to bring the guilty vigilantes to justice.

Locate in the Burren in County Clare, Ireland, is the Poulnabrone dolmen (meaning “hole of the quern stones”) (bró in Irish)) is a portal tomb that dates back to the Neolithis period, between 4200 BC and 2900 BC.

The dolmen consists of a twelve-foot, thin, slab-like, tabular capstone supported by two slender portal stones which support the capstone six feet up from the ground, creating a chamber in a 30 foot cairn. The entrance faces north and is crossed by a low sill stone.

In 1985, the dolmen was dismantled for some repairs, and it was discovered that between 16 and 22 adults and six children were buried under the monument. Only one of the adults lived beyond 40 years, and the majority were under 30 when they died. An analysis of all the fragments of disarticulated bones revealed a hard physical life and a coarse diet. Most of the children were between the ages of five and fifteen. The skeletal remains show evidence of arthritis. The tip of a flint or chert projectile point was found embedded in the hip of one individual. Two other healed fractures, one skull and one rib, were also found. Dental wear analysis shows evidence for the consumption of stone-grounded cereals. Also found in the burial chamber was a polished stone axe, 2 stone beads, a decorated bone pendant, a fragment of a mushroom-headed bone pin, 2 quartz crystals, several sherds of coarse pottery, and a number of arrowheads and scrapers. Having seen the Burren, I am sure it was a VERY hard physical life!

Personal items buried with the dead included a polished stone axe, a bone pendant, quartz crystals, weapons and pottery. In the Bronze Age, around 1700 BCE, a newborn baby was buried in the portico, just outside the entrance. With its dominating presence on the limestone landscape of the Burren, the tomb was likely a center for ceremony and ritual until well into the Celtic period, or it may have served as a territorial marker in the Neolithic landscape.

It is believed that the bodies of the deceased were placed atop the dolmen until the flesh had either been rotted away or picked away by birds, then the bones would be burned our buried. This would have been a good sequel to Eastwood’s Hang ‘Em High, don’t you think?  After all, if you hang ’em high, you might as well as bury ’em high, too.

I took today’s picture with a cheap point-and-shoot back in 2002.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: Jedediah Strong Smith, one of America’s greatest trapper-explorers, was born in Bainbridge, New York in 1798.

Smith explored a large area of the Far West during his short life. He began his western voyages in 1822, when he joined the pioneering fur trader William Ashley on a trip up the Missouri River. Unlike earlier fur traders, who depended on the native Americans to trap or hunt the furs, Ashley eliminated the Indians as middlemen and instead sent out independent Anglo trappers like Smith to do the job.

To escape dependence on Indians, Ashley needed to find his own sources of beaver and otter in the West, and Smith became one of his best explorers. A year after his first trip up the Missouri, Smith set out with a small band of mountain men to explore the Black Hills region of the Dakotas at Ashley’s behest. Despite being mauled by a grizzly bear in the Black Hills, Smith continued westward to the site of modern-day Dubois, WY, where he and his men camped for the winter.

During his long forced halt at Dubois, Smith learned from friendly Crow Indians of an easy pass through the Rocky Mountains. The following spring, Smith and his men followed the route outlined by the Crow and discovered that they could cross the mighty Rockies almost effortlessly. Later named the “South Pass,” Smith’s new route was a high plain that gradually rose like a shallow ramp to provide an easy crossing of the Continental Divide. Smith’s discovery of South Pass was actually a “rediscovery,” since employees of John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company crossed the pass in 1812 when returning to St. Louis from the Pacific. The Astorian discovery, though, remained unknown, so Smith is credited for alerting the nation to the existence of this easy route across the Rockies.

Smith’s discovery of South Pass was important. Not only did his fellow fur trappers prefer South Pass to the far more difficult and dangerous Missouri River route blazed by Lewis and Clark in 1804, but the South Pass became an early 19th century “super-highway” for settlers bound for Oregon and California.  Ideally suited for heavy wagon traffic, South Pass greatly facilitated the mass emigration of Americans to the Far West.

The blazing of the South Pass route alone would have secured Smith’s claim as one of the great explorers of the American West, but during the following decade, Smith also explored the Great Salt Lake, the Colorado Plateau, and led the first expedition to cross the Southwest to California—all before he was 30 years old. Having lived through dozens of narrow escapes on his intrepid journeys, Smith decided to retire from his dangerous trade in 1830 and enter the mercantile business. Ironically, being a trader proved more deadly than exploring: while leading a trading caravan along the Santa Fe Trail in 1831, Smith was killed by Commanche Indians near the Cimarron River. He was 32 years old.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY:  The rude act of raking foods into one’s already full mouth with chopsticks is disdainfully called komibashi in Japanese. (OK…I’m guilty of committing komibashi!!!!)

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