Thursday, May 26, 2016


Flint Ridge: source of tools for Hopewell

As we are interested in early American Indian sites, we enjoyed our recent visit to the Flint Ridge State Memorial in Glenford, a small village in southeast Ohio. The museum, built around a restored prehistoric quarry, focuses on the importance of flint, which the Indians used to make the tools and weapons needed to keep them fed, clothed and protected from enemies.
On the 525-acre site, visitors can take trails past various quarries dug by the Indians. The first in the area to mine flint were the Paleo-Indians, who came here as long as 15,000 years ago.
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Need an accounIn addition to weapons, other items made from flint included hide scrapers and drills. One of the displays pointed out that flint tools can be recycled — you just made a smaller item by flaking off pieces to create a new shape.
As flint was not readily available in many places, tribes such as the Adena and Hopewell had a source of trading goods. They were probably among our country’s first traveling salesmen as they took their valuable flint products around the country trading for copper, sea shells, food, hides, pottery and other items of worth.
Ohio has some of the best flint in the world. One bulletin suggested that flint might have been the basis for the state’s first industry.
Displays in the small but well-organized museum, built in 1933 miles from nowhere, tell the American Indians’ story. A mannequin now sits in the open pit once used by American Indians both for mining the flint and for napping it into products — making it into a useful tool. The American Indians had an area of 6 square miles they mined for more than 12,000 years.
The immediate area is a preserve with hundreds of ancient pits where they came to quarry the flint. The volunteer guide told us the area did not produce much food, so no one lived there; they came only to get and work the flint.
Flint, a variety of quartz, was laid down from the remains of undersea creatures 300 to 400 million years ago. Some varieties are better than others, and Ohio claims its flint not only is among the best for tools and weapons, but because it comes in a range of shades including red, blue, yellow and green, is especially good for making jewelry. Later European and Americans made stone-grinding wheels for mills out of it.
Various flint items are on display in the museum, and there are several interactive programs that tell you more about the uses for flint. One particularly attractive display has a wide-ranging display of flint tools and points on a wall with chips and flint-making tools spread over the floor. Sitting in middle of this a mannequin depicting an American Indian flintnapper.
To add to our education, we watched a film in which a modern-day archaeologist demonstrated the making of a spear point using a stone tool and antelope horn. He explained archaeologists are studying the pits for what they can tell us about the lives of these people.
A local flintnapper has various arrow and spearheads for sale in the souvenirs center, based on the different periods when flint was mined and turned into tools and weapons. One of his beautiful spear heads was priced at $700.


Zane Grey Museum

As teenagers, we especially enjoyed reading Westerns and thought Zane Grey (1872-1939) was one of the best writers. Obviously, our generation agreed with us — his books outsold those of Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald combined. So it was a treat for us to explore the Zane Grey Museum in Norwich, Ohio.

At Grey’s death, he was billed as the “greatest selling author of all time.”

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However, his work has lacked as much staying power as some of his rivals, and we realize that today, few people younger than 50 have heard of him.

The museum is close to Zanesville, a town named after Zane’s great-grandfather Col. Ebenezer Zane, who established one of the first roads in the area, Zane’s Trace.

A series of exhibits follow Grey’s life with the addition of artifacts indicating a full life with many adventures and the development of a range of skills.

Grey’s father, a dentist, was an overbearing, often brutal parent who wanted his son also to become a dentist. When Grey wrote his first book at age 15, his father tore it up and beat him severely.

While in college, Grey became an outstanding baseball player and played semi-pro for some years. But dentistry bored him, and he spent his evenings writing.

Several exhibits give much credit to his wife, Dolly, for his success, as she edited his work and took care of the financial accounts. He recognized this by giving her half of the earnings.

One exhibit focuses on how difficult he could be to live with. He had fits of depression and anger outbursts that today probably would get him diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

He wrote in bursts, disappearing into his study and writing in longhand continuously. He would be away from the family for weeks on the road learning about Western life for background for his novels.

His many affairs posed an added problem for his wife. She treated them as a handicap over which he had no control.

When he was home, she often would travel while he took care of their three children.

His study has been replicated with a wax figure of Grey writing in his chair. His cowboy saddle and equipment fill another display, and next to it the deep-sea fishing equipment he designed. He enjoyed deep-sea fishing and wrote several books about it as well as many about baseball.

His books seemed made for the big screen, and 112 movies have been made from his works. A number of famous actors got their start in these movies, among them Gary Cooper, Buster Crabbe and William Powell.

The museum includes several movie posters featuring favorite actors from our childhood, among them, Alan Ladd and Roy Rogers. The ideal Grey hero probably was Randolph Scott, who starred in 20 of Grey’s movies.

For a time, Grey was actively involved as producer in the movies because it allowed him to live in California, where he could pursue deep-sea fishing.

Many of his books are on sale at the museum, as are copies of the Zane Grey Review, the official publication of Zane Grey’s West Society. The latter suggests there continues to be a collection of interested fans.

A wax figure of Zane Grey works on manuscript

Deep Sea fishing equipment designed by Zane Grey


Death and rebirth in Varanasi India

Hindus bathe on the ghats early in the morning to cleanse themselves of sin.
Exploring matters of life, death and rebirth in India

As I have been lecturing on world wonders recently, I was recalling two memorable mornings from long ago. The first morning I watched the rising sun casting light on the stone ghats, or steps, leading down to the Ganges, considered in India as the holiest river in the world. I was with a group of mostly English travelers — Carla couldn’t fit the trip in her schedule — living on a train that crossed the country.
Our guide was rowing us along the holiest city in the world — Varanasi, also known as Benares. The ghats run about 3 miles along the riverfront, which was crowded with people bathing — a holy ritual that our guide said would cleanse them of their sins.

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I asked him if the worshippers were running a risk of getting sick, as the Ganges looked terribly unsanitary. He gave me a look that indicated I was a person of limited understanding and insisted that, as a holy river, the Ganges destroys all bacteria upon contact and dissolves bones in three days.

Early morning at the ghats of Varanasi

Above the bathers on the upper tiers, we saw some of the ever-present cows, a man on a bicycle, beggars and small sales booths. When we reached the area where we expected funeral pyres to be burning, there was only one body. I had looked forward to seeing at least one because it is such an important ritual in the Hindu religion. To get a better view of what the rituals involved, I made plans to come back the next day.

Hindus believe you will be reborn after death, and what form you will take will depend on how closely you followed the rules of the status you were born into. What a person will be reborn as is questionable, and as a result, Hindus do not always look forward to the next life. It might be bad now, but it could be even worse next time.

The possibility that they might have what was once a human soul is one of the reasons cows in particular are considered sacred. Varanasi offers a special way to avoid being reborn in any form, human or animal, for to die naturally in Varanasi is to achieve “moksha.” If the right rituals are performed, the reincarnation cycle will end.

In the Hindu faith, Varanasi is the home of Shiva, creator and destroyer. It is Shiva who whispers a sacred mantra into the ears of the dying, granting them freedom from reincarnation. I made plans to come back the next day to see if any bodies were being prepared and burning there.

After our boat trip, our group spent the rest of the day exploring Varanasi. Besides those who had come to die, the city was full of religious pilgrims who came to worship at the many shrines and temples. We found ourselves rubbing shoulders with religious men, beggars and more cows.

The town is famous for its fine silks and the saris made from them, and a number of us could not resist — after intense bargaining — buying one.
The next day, none of the people who had gone with me on the boat ride wanted to go back to Varanasi; they just didn’t like it. The narrow streets and sheer mass of humanity overwhelmed them. Two young men from Norway were interested, however, and joined me on a return visit to the burning ghats.

When we arrived, we saw four bodies on pyres and another three were being prepared. Four men accompanied by drummers and pipers carried a body with a bright pink covering down the street. The body was ritually placed in the Ganges along the shore. After proper prayers and splashes of water, it was placed on a wood pyre, and the fire was started.
As we watched, a man poked the bodies that had been burning for a while with a stick and at one point smashed them with something like a baseball bat to break them up so they would burn more completely.

It takes three hours for a body to be consumed, after which the ashes and anything left over are thrown into the Ganges to be further purified. It is said that at this point the person’s soul is thus freed from reincarnation.

I checked for recent information on the burning ghats and found that the practice has changed little since my visit, but the government has some concern about pollution from the ashes of 80 bodies a day being dumped into the Ganges. A burning also takes a lot of wood and adds to the air pollution in the area. For now, however, the practice continues.