Friday, April 14, 2017

The case of the murdered mummy 

It’s been 26 years since the remains of Otzi The Iceman were recovered from a receding glacier in the Otzal Alps of Italy.
He died about a 1,000 feet below the summit of the 12,000-foot Fineilspitze, which I believe translates to final point. Ironic because poor old Otzi has been final for 5,200 years.
 

It was a lonely place to die, and it took a decade to discover he was murdered by an archer who fired from a lower elevation. The body was frozen immediately after because it was not scavenged by the critters. He was a mummy before he was yummy.
 

He is the oldest mummy in the world, as well as the only stone-age man who died while he was still a working stiff. Still is. For a dead guy, he has enjoyed a remarkable second career, as a scientific specimen and tourist attraction.

  

Otzi and his spiffy outfit.


 

This case has recently come to the firm of Holmes and Raven, Consulting Detectives.


We have been engaged by the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who is convinced that migrants from the Middle East are polluting the Rhine River where it dumps into the North Sea near Tulipville in Holland.


Wilders is convinced migrants were responsible for Otzi’s death.


We are sad to report Wilders is correct. Migrants and global warming, which sounds familiar to the modern debate.


Here’s a short summary of the victim, compiled by  J. Edgar Flintstone, head of the Neolithic Bureau of Investigation when Otzi was still just a missing person’s case.


Name: Otzi T. Iceman


Race: Caucasian.


Occupation: Part-time neolithic farmer; full time alpine hunter.


Age: 46ish


Likes: Ibex burgers


Dislikes: Trespassers with arrows, grizzly bears.


Identifying marks: Tatoos on lower body; lots of them.


Personal property: Flint dagger, copper axe, bow and quiver. Quiver contains two broken arrows and 12 incomplete arrow shafts. Bow probably not  functional. No bow string.


Flintstone, in typical cop fashion, focused on Otzi’s wife’s boyfriend, but the case went nowhere.

Quick Watson, doom is afoot



My associate, Sherlock Holmes, took a high interest in our case, as, he too, died more than a century ago but has continued to enjoy a stellar career up to the present day.


Turns out, Sherlock didn’t really expire, only his copyright did.


Holmes and Raven is a multinational consultancy. Holmes still keeps his rooms at 221B Baker Street, London, while I keep an office at 710 Ashbury St., San Francisco. Technically, I am in the alley behind 710 Ashbury in an abandoned refrigerator crate. My files are kept in a Safeway shopping cart.


After Otzi was removed from the glacier in the fall of 1991, he was taken to the University of Innsbruck on the Austrian side of the Tyrol, where it was quickly determined he was a later stone-age man. The folks at Innsbruck knew they had hit the archaeological jackpot.


Before Otzi, the archaeological business had been slow. During the summer just ended, Innsbruck grad students were excavating in the path of some civic improvement to remove and catalogue pottery shards from the historical period.


At Innsbruck, Otzi quickly developed a narrative based more on assumption than scientific inquiry : He was neolithic sheepherder who suffered some tragedy. The location of the body indicated he was under high stress when he died. He was attempting to flee from something and flee to something at the same time. The iceman was in a desperate situation.


The German-born Konrad Spindler, wrangled control of the iceman, much to annoyance of many of the scientists who worked on the project.


The Austrians had Otzi until 1998 and collected a great deal of information about the neolithic life of the iceman but missed the important clue: He had been murdered.


The arrowhead that killed him was discovered by X-ray (CT scan) in 2001 in Bolzano Italy, where Ozti had new accommodations.

Round up the usual suspects

The immediate conclusion was Otzi’s death occurred during some sort of hunting mishap involving Dick Cheney. Cheney’s old enough, but is known to avoid places where he cannot see an oil well. He also avoids areas with strong extradition laws.


The next suspect was O.J. Simpson, but Johnnie Cochran was still Simpson's attorney of record. “If it’s Frozen Fritz, you must acquit,” Cochran kept shouting. The Italians did not need that kind of grief.


Unless you are Jimmy Hoffa, the body of a murder victim is easier to locate than the murderer. Holmes and Raven have proceeded on that basis.


Holmes Victorian-era mantra was: “If you eliminate the impossible, that which remains, however implausible, must be the truth.”


Here in the 21st Century, he has modified the doctrine to: “Throw out the poppycock and evaluate the rest as less likely or more likely.” We proceeded on that basis.


Did Otzi know his killer? He did not. The arrowhead that killed him is unlike the arrowheads he carried. This is clear from the X-ray. The fatal arrow is small and light - the size of a dime - and is cut to resist removal. The arrowhead is still in the victim, and it is not known whether it is flint, volcanic glass, quartz, or even feldspar.


We are amazed at the lack of curiosity about this matter in the archaeological world. The arrow shaft was not found with the body, indicating someone tried to remove the shaft, perhaps tearing tissue and killing him. The archer who shot him would not have bothered.


The arrow that killed Otzi is different than the hunting points he carried. It's an important clue.



Was Otzi so desperate that he made desperate decisions by climbing the treeless Alps to escape death?


Less Likely.


The Otzi gang was in a serious running fight lasting at least three days and perhaps three weeks, based on Otzi’s movements, tracked from pollen, in him or on him. Pollen tells us Otzi was high in the forested region, went down the mountain quickly and then returned to ascend to an area above the forested region. Others must have been with him, on the second trip if not on the first.


The plateau, where he met his fate would have been the perfect defensive position. The glacier had receded, and had carved a flat area surrounded by very steep slopes. Enemies trying to climb these slopes would be sitting ducks. The gully where Otzi’s remains were found added additional protection.


This didn’t work out for Otzi, who was likely the oldest member of the party but also likely to be the most knowledgeable about that section of the Alps. The climb from the pass is still arduous and Otzi may have been the last man up - just enough for a skilled archer to target the iceman. The defensive strategy apparently worked, given only the lone iceman was preserved in the gully.


The plateau has never been archaeologically surveyed. Only the gully where the body was found was thoroughly examined. The site itself is a train wreck. After Helmut and Erika Simon discovered the remains,  22 alpinists visited the site before Otzi was removed by helicopter. Some of the visitors broke things, tramped and crushed artifacts, and some removed artifacts.


The Otzi find site is identified by red dot. Below at the pass is the hotel for alpinists. In the Neolithic this was probably a Motel 6.


 

The usual suspects.



Sherlock and I got into a scrap about the suspects in Otzi’s death.


I sided with the logic of the anthro-archaeological thesis that Otzi’s neolithic tribe were both farmers and herdsmen. The sheep and aurochs could manure the fields in winter and be driven to the high meadows in spring and summer.


Otzi’s kit contained two or three items that could have come from domestic animals. But even Spindler conceded that those products could have come from the wild versions of those same animals. Nothing he wore was woven.


My thinking: Herders, if successful, would need more and more land for their operations, which would lead to range wars with their opponents on the other side of the hill.


But old Sherlock went with the unfortunate fact that there is no evidence for the herding thesis while there is ample evidence for the migration thesis.


Our employer, the Dutchman, Wilders, really liked the idea that proto-Russians from the Black Sea were the culprits in the murder.


Sherlock even went so far as to name the killer: A neolithic archer named Boris Badenov


Spindler, the German, had different ideas. He thought the mountain people of the Austrian Tyrol and the Italian South Tyrol, had been pushed there from the Rhine River of the north and from the south by neolithic linguini farmers of Italy.

The Julian Alps viewed from Slovenia. You can see why Slovenians don't get good pizza delivery.



 

Archaeological evidence does not support a neolithic presence in Italy, because Italy was just too hard to get to: surrounded on three sides by sea, the only passage would have been a through the Julian Alps from Slovenia. Spindler was hot to connect Otzi to the cultural tombs of Remedello more than 100 miles to the south and more that 1,000 years into the future, but also conceded this was a bit of a stretch.


Spindler did write that what little is known about the neolithic farming settlements of the Tyrol, Swiss lakeside villages and the South Tyrol, is they were all built on defensive, hilltop sites. Good (de)fences, make good neighbors, I guess.


The whole of the neolithic era in Europe, from about 8,000 BC to about 2,800 BC, reminds me of California weather: Fire, flood, earthquakes and the occasional volcanic eruption. We know that this is just divine retribution. Coveting thy neighbor’s ass is the least of our sins.


But what about poor Otzi?


Sure, he and his clan were overhunting and otherwise screwing up the alpine ecosystem, but it wasn’t exactly Sodom and Gomorrah, which is far to the west in Hollywood and parts of Burbank, and far into the future.


Among the nine Carbon 14 dates of and around Otzi’s person, the latest date of his death was about 3,140 BC and the earliest about 3,350BC. His clothing and tools are consistent with the average date of 3,200 BC. Almost everything he wore, ate, or used is now extinct in the Otzal Alps.

 

Think globally; shoot locally

The world in 3,200 BC was a hopping joint. The Sumerians were recording tax records on clay tablets and Troy I, in Turkey was established as a trading center between East and West. But most important was a world-wide drought that caused the abandonment of all the clay cities in the Indus Valley of Pakistan and presumably a migration from the Black Sea region into the Alps, first upstream along the Danube River and then downstream along the Rhine River.


With this came the dispersion of the Indo-European language,which is the root language of English, German, Italic, Spanish and Sanskrit of the Indus Valley. One of the commonalities of Indo-European based language is the word for snow. Only Finnish and Iberian Basques do not share the Indo-European root.


Hence we have our migrants, among them, Mr. Badenov and his girl, Natasha, both of whom later gained prominence in Mooselvania.


Meanwhile in 3,200 BC, Italy’s neighbor to the east (Slovenia) was busy inventing the wheel, and building dugout canoes. At some point, archaeologists are just going to have to concede that watercraft were part of neolithic equation in Europe, England and even North America.

The 9-mile gap between Morocco and Gibraltar would have been a big time-saver, compared to walking completely around the Mediterranean Sea.

Replica of Slovenian wheel, the oldest wheel ever found.




The Heretics.



Two scientists who studied Otzi have been viewed with academic suspicion but both have come up with plausible thesis about the iceman’s fate.


Thomas Loy concluded Otzi had four samples of human blood that was not the iceman’s own. Two different samples were on one arrowhead; one sample was on Otzi’s flint dagger, and one sample was on Otzi’s clothing.


This news was reported in the popular press, but Loy did not publish his findings in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, so the results of findings remain somewhat cryptic.


Loy taught and worked at the University of Queensland, Australia and was found dead at his home there in 2005. Among his projects was writing a book about Otzi.


Loy’s claim to fame and infamy was founded on his curiosity about the patina found on ancient spearpoints which turned out to be blood. This was a controversial subject, indicating that artifacts had been mishandled historically by washing off the coatings on hunting points.


The second heretic is Bryan Sykes, a geneticist. Sykes works with mitochondrial DNA, passed only through mothers. He was among the first geneticists to successfully extract ancient DNA and to amplify (PCR) DNA into a usable quantity. 


He extracted DNA from Otzi, but created controversy by opposing the thesis that paleolithic hunter-gatherers were replaced in Europe and the Middle East by successive waves of migrants from out of Africa.


Sykes findings were that mtDNA did not point back to Africa, but instead the hunter-gatherer migrants must have become the neolithic farmers who became modern Europeans. Sykes proposes that all of modern Europe is descended from only seven paleolithic clans.


None of this looks good for Otzi's neolithic clan. Vestiges of Otzi's DNA have turned up in Europe, Wales and Corsica but the thread is thin. The mtDNA of his mother, an ancient Swiss Miss appears to have disappeared.


Sykes, the DNA guy has since turned his attention to finding DNA samples of the Abominable Snowman. Sykes has also established a commercial DNA business where folks can  send their spit to find out if their real father was the  postman.


I tried this out on Sherlock because you have to admit the guy is a little odd. Sherlock was chastened to discover his mother was Charlotte Bronte and his father was an Underwood typewriting machine favored by Arthur Conan Doyle.




The South Tyrol , where Otzi hung out. The dotted line is the path used by Helmut and Erika Simon who discovered the iceman. Otzi most certainly used the same route from his village which may now be beneath Vernagt Lake, a modern reservoir.




Sources:


The man in the ice, by Konrad Spindler, English translation 1994. Worth reading for details on initial find of Otzi.


Iceman, by Brenda Fowler, 2000. The book-length feature story about the scientific staff at Innsbruck.


Every bone tells a story, by Jill Rubalcaba and Peter Robertshaw, 2010, a collection of stories about early-man discoveries, including Otzi.


Seven daughters of Eve, by Brian Sykes, 2001. DNA of early man.


And a whole bunch of internetti stuff, some of which is hyperlinked throughout this essay.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Case of the Auspicious Allegory


   

One can always count on three things in a Michael Connelly mystery novel: Realism, idiotic cliff hangers, and dramatic tension created by putting his victims in jeopardy.


But the most fun of a Connelly novel is picking up the literary allusions to famous detective fiction. In at least two of the Harry Bosch novels, the detective dined at the Red Harvest diner, the title of a pre-Maltese Falcon Dashiell Hammett novella.

This time, in The Wrong Side of Goodbye, Connelly brings out the big guns, by paraphrasing the opening line of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep.

Chandler, 1939: “I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.”

Connelly, 2016: “According to Wikipedia he (Bosch) was calling on
six billion dollars.”

In Florida where Connelly is from, allegory is what happens when you are eaten by alligators at a Disney resort.
In California, Chandler wrote a thinly disguised narrative of the Doheny oil murders, while Connelly apparently has picked the late Henry J. Kaiser, as a model for Vance, the billionaire employer for whom Bosch works as a private eye.

There is no point in discussing the plot, because Connelly (and all serial novelists) basically have only the one plot.

But he’s still a fun read, and it’s good to see him exploring ethnic diversity of the city. He implied, in the end notes to the novel, that Bosch might return to the little city of San Fernando.

Or maybe a gig with the L.A, County Sheriff will open up, being a lot of the personnel of that agency seem to be in prison at the moment.

The enduring mystery of the Wrong Side of Goodbye is how Connelly picked the Hispanic surname Sahagun for one of his characters.

My instincts tell me this is lifted from Louis Sahagun, the legendary L.A. Times reporter, a native La La Lander, who began his career covering organized crime for the Arizona Republic, and became the Times’ Wild West reporter for more than 30 years.

I’ll never be able to prove it in literary court, but if I use Connelly logic, I’ll get a slam-dunk conviction.

Bosch must pine for the days when Wyatt Earp worked for the L.A.P.D. in an off-the-books arrangement with Chief Two-gun Davis. Things went swimmingly until federal marshals arrested the lawman for claim-jumping a borax deposit in the Mojave Desert.

The first season of the Bosch Amazon.com television series continued the allegorical trend by adapting the character, Lou Escobar from the movie Chinatown. We'll probably see more of this in the two other seasons.

Friday, March 20, 2015

B.T. Raven - Ace Detective

About 5 years ago, I discovered a Sierra Club newsletter reprint authored by Peter Wild, who disclosed he was flummoxed by the connection between John Muir and Theodore Strong Van Dyke.

The newsletter article was dated 1995, which is the same as brand new to a researcher.


"A mountain and ice man, Muir didn't go willingly to the California desert. Rather, it was the health of daughter Helen that forced him out there in his final years. He had spent much of 1905-1906 worrying over Helen's condition and trying to find a healing climate for her respiratory problems, first in the mountains of eastern Arizona, later at the Petrified Forest in the northern part of the state. ... Helen suddenly took a turn for the worse, and Muir rushed her south to the Van Dyke Ranch, a mile east of Daggett."

"The details of why Muir chose this ranch are not entirely clear. In fact, Daggett had a particularly evil reputation," Wild wrote.
Left to right: Wanda Muir, Helen Muir, Louie Muir, John Muir at the house in Martinez


Muir's last day on this earth was spent in that desert railroad town, which still exists along a wide place in the road about 5 miles east of Barstow.

Muir was pronounced dead at Los Angeles' California Hospital on Christmas Eve, 1914,  soon after he arrived by rail, ill with pneumonia. It is possible Muir expired on the train and was pronounced dead at the hospital so the Santa Fe Railroad would not have to summon the county coroner in the dead of night.

Everyone knows Peter Wild is the premier (and only) scholar on the life of T.S. Van Dyke: Writer, naturalist, irrigator, ex-wife ducker.

The last item is how he got from San Diego to  Daggett, which was the western terminus of the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad (after that the Santa Fe railway took over the tracks and the freight).
Peter Wild about 1979


When I read that Wild did not know how Muir and Van Dyke were connected, I became very excited, because I knew the answer to this enigma: Van Dyke and Muir became associated through Theodore Parker Lukens (letter to Muir), of whom I am the premier (and only scholar). (reply from Muir)
 

I immediately made plans to contact Wild at the University of Arizona campus in Tucson. I knew Wild would be thrilled to solve the riddle.

Only to find out that Wild had gone to the grave in 2009, at the age of 69. Trust me, there is nothing worse than having possession of a secret, and having no one to tell it.

Bummer.

Wild was a great writer. A professor of English, ardent backpacker, and writer about Old West personages whom you have never heard of. His interest in the Old West had nothing to do with being rich or famous. Clearly, there is nothing better. It helps to have a reliable day job that involves 3-month unpaid holidays during the summer.

Much of Wild's writing was for the High Country News, a very eclectic journal of god-knows-what, in the gazillion square miles surrounding the Escalante Plateau.
Drawing of T.S, Van Dyke on cover of Wild's chapbook: #121 of the Western Writers series.


Wild also authored a chapbook on Van Dyke for the Western Writers series, published by the University of Boise. He also edited a book based on the papers of  Dix Van Dyke, son of Theodore, who, as an old man published a rememberence of the old days in the Barstow Printer Review newspaper before it was renamed the Desert Dispatch. I called it the Screaming Eagle, because of its idiotic banner.

What really ticks me off is that I worked for the Dispatch in the late 1980s and beyond and never knew of Van Dyke nor the demise of John Muir, right in my neighborhood. I spent a lot of time tramping the desert back then and cannot believe I missed this piece of western minutiae.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Confessions of an historical stalker

History, once you’ve come down with the disease, is hard on the soul. It must be even harder on the souls of the dead, who are unable to defend themselves.

I have this idea that every moment in time still exists somewhere in some sort of parallel universe. It just doesn’t exist here, where I need it.

Which has forced me into stalking

That's become an annoyance to Miss Lukens, the unrequited love of my life, whom I first met 50 years after her expiration date.
1897 - Pasadena, California. From top left Helen Lukens, T.P. Lukens; Charlotte Dyer Lukens. Below, from left: William Ralph Jones and Charlotte Jones. The dog is only one enjoying the portrait sitting. Photographer is unknown.


For a decade, I would sneak into her house and search her parallel universe underwear drawer looking for the missing glass plate negatives of early Pasadena and the wilds of the turn-of-the-century Angeles National Forest.

The plates have since turned up, but probably would not have, had
I not been such a persistent stalker, helping to rescue her father from historical oblivion.

Instead of waiting for me for a century, like she promised, Helen Lukens ran off and married Edward Everett  Jones, and later married James Hamilton Gaut.

As Helen Lukens Gaut, she is best known for the flyleaf photograph
of John Muir in the Hetch Hetchy Valley. This is contained in the
Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography, Son of the Wilderness. You’ve got
to admit, I have pretty good taste in women.






Probably in the Angeles National Forest. Helen Lukens used both a Mitchell touring car and a Model T.


As with all long-term relationships, I became aware of some skeletons
in Helen’s closet.


The good, the bad, the strange


Helen Lukens Jones Gaut was a master wildland photographer, an unheralded pioneer among women photographers of the West. We assume most of her work was done on plate cameras, but the 116 flexible film was also available in the early 20th century. 

Marketing photographic art, however, was a dicey business, unless it was it was to accompany a story in newsprint or magazines.

Which turned her into a writer. Left to her own devices, she was a
terrible writer of Victorian prose. Her nonfiction account of the
mystique of Tahquitz Canyon in the San Jacinto wilderness, published in Out West is a wretched narrative of an American Indian Romeo and Juliet. Her chapbook, Trails to Peace, makes the Out West piece look like actual literature.

Helen sought to be a professional writer, that’s where the money was
in the great age of magazines, when the Post Office generously subsidized rates for the mailing of periodical literature.

Miss Lukens found her ecological niche in the celebration of the California bungalow. Almost all of her bungalow writing is pure fiction, but was not published as such.

She came clean to the census taker in 1910. She and Jim Gaut were
operating a rooming house that they did not own in Pasadena. She gave her occupation as writer; he as real estate tycoon. I guess they were kind of  between gigs.

Helen was the only child of Theodore Parker Lukens and Charlotte Dyer.

Dyer of Puritan stock; Lukens of sober German heritage. When the family migrated to the land of fruit and nuts, magical thinking was tolerated and always a close companion of the family. Theodore got a temporary gig as manager of the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve, which had everything except timber. Through the remainder of his life he sought to plant timber in the range - to grow a little hair on Mt. Baldy, so to speak.

His biographer said he was the Father of Forestry; others referred to him as Johnny Pinecone.



Helen Lukens at camp in the Angeles National Forest

Helen, who was both domesticated and adventurous, had a nice little
adventure in Palm Canyon around 1905. This was a Sierra Club expedition in the San Jacinto Mountains. John Muir was there, her father was there, and James Hamilton Gaut, of the federal Biological Survey, was there.

The next year, Edward Everett Jones was out and Gaut was in. The evidence that this transition did not go smoothly, is supported by the fact that Helen’s children, Charlotte and Ralph Jones became Charlotte and Ralph Gaut. Charlotte Gaut grew up to embrace mysticism. During her foray into life as a working girl in San Francisco, John Muir was asked to look after her. This occurred about 1910.

By 1920, Charlotte was an inmate at the Patton State Hospital for
the insane in San Bernardino. She remained there for 30 years, until
her death, reported in January, 1950. There is no evidence her body
was claimed although her mother, brother and children were alive then. The unclaimed dead at Patton were given to the Loma Linda University Medical Center.

When Charlotte was committed, her two children, Helen Lukens Jensen and Theodore Parker Jensen, became inmates of a Pasadena orphanage.

James Hamilton Gaut was not cut out for the rigors of the 20th Century:
James H. Gaut has lively experience with newly bought equine when the animal runs away today - Pasadena Evening Star, 9/29/1906,

Hit by train and may die : Shocking accident to well known realty
man : Foot caught in switch, he makes vain struggle : Right arm is
amputated and condition critical
-  Los Angeles Times, 7/10/1909,


J. H. Gaut killed today : Automobile dashes down Arbor Street hill and over Arroyo bank : Control of car lost by driver : Machine makes spectacular flight; Death follows instantly -  Pasadena Star, 9/14/1914.

Helen Lukens Jones Gaut retired from the literary/photography scene soon after her husband’s death. She was getting older and the California bungalow - Arts and Crafts movement was waning. She dabbled in songwriting, performing live on KHJ radio in the early 20’s and lived another 40 years after her husband’s death.

Her father’s collection of photographs and papers were bought by Dawson’s bookshop in Los Angeles at some point in the 50’s or 60’s. Those papers were sold to the Huntington Library in Pasadena, where they still reside.

Sadly the Huntington will not allow us riff-raff to finger the glass-plate negatives.

But Helen’s photographs remained obscure until they were brokered
through an art dealer to the Pasadena Museum of History after 2002. The museum has made these images permanently available on Flickr photo sharing web site.

Regards, B.T. Raven

Friday, February 13, 2015

Nighthawks West!

On our weekly trip through Railroad Square in Santa Rosa, California, Edward Hopper's famous Nighthawks suddenly appeared on the side of a boarded-up, long-abandoned Asian restaurant. The painter is Judy Kennedy, a local artist of some celebrity.

That's all we know so far. This thing is brilliant; I wanna go in for a cup of coffee each time I view it. The mural is on Wilson Street at the corner of College Avenue.

Around the corner  on College is a rendition of Jerry Garcia on another abandoned building. Artist unknown.

On my things-to-do list is a video of street art in Sonoma County. Know anything I should shoot?

Best Regards, B.T. Raven