Just because a battle took place over 2,000 years ago doesn’t mean we can’t uncover what happened. A team of archaeologists exploring a Mediterranean site near Sicily is using their findings to piece together a narrative of the Battle of the Aegates Islands, a naval conflict between ancient Rome and Carthage.
According to Live Science, the team has been surveying the site for years, recovering six bronze ship rams, along with some helmets and pottery, in 2018 alone. As the findings have accumulated, they have both raised new questions and suggested new answers as to how the events of March 10, 241 BC played out.
It was already known, for example, that the Romans won the battle decisively, forcing the Carthaginians to evacuate Sicily, and collecting a Carthaginian payment of 2,200 talents to compensate for the Romans’ lost ships. The resounding Roman victory would suggest that most of the site’s shipwrecks would have belonged to Carthage—but so far, that has not been the case. In fact, 11 of the 19 rams identified at the site appear to have been Roman, according to William Murray, an historian of ancient Greece at the University of South Florida and a member of the research team. In addition, many of the helmets recovered at the site are in the “Montefortino” style associated with the Romans.
One way to explain this seeming contradiction is to propose, as Murray has, that the Carthaginian navy was using many Roman ships in this battle, as it had taken some 93 of them from a prior battle. The Montefortino helmets, meanwhile, may have belonged to mercenaries from Gaul and Iberia, who fought for Carthage and were known to sometimes wear Montefortinos.
Equally curious is the scattering of amphorae—liquid-holding pots—around the ships’ wreckage. These kinds of pots, Murray explained to Live Science, would have been packed together in clusters on each ship, so something seems amiss in finding them just lying about, apart from one another. They may well have been thrown overboard by Carthaginian sailors who, knowing that they were losing the battle, wanted to make their ships lighter and faster, and give themselves a better chance of escaping the Romans.
The amphorae also, however, present another question that lacks such a likely answer. These pots were not tarred with the material that would have prevented liquids from evaporating inside them, leading the researchers to wonder what their use would have been. The amphorae are undergoing chemical tests in an attempt to trace their contents, and the researchers are gearing up to return to the Mediterranean and piece together more of the battle this year.
The Riel House in Winnipeg is a humble abode once inhabited by the Riels, a family of Métis origin, a Canadian ethnic group comprised of French and Canadian Aboriginal heritage. The house is most closely associated with the activist Louis Riel, who was executed in 1885 for his leading role in the North-West Rebellion, a bloody Métis uprising against the Canadian government.
Situated in the historic St. Vital district in the Manitoba capital, the storied residence was acquired by Louis Riel’s mother, Julie, in the mid-1860s, and rebuilt not long after as the quaint white cabin that visitors can tour today. Louis Riel lived on the property from 1868 until his decided exile in 1870. (Although he—or rather, his dead body—returned for two days in December 1885.)
Louis Riel fled to Montana in exile following the Red River Rebellion, a Métis uprising that he led against the Canadian government for systematically seizing control of First Nation territories. Depleted bison populations caused widespread starvation as Canada’s indigenous and Métis communities were rapidly losing their land to federal control and development. The government eventually established the small province of Manitoba for the Métis people, but that too was restricted by Canadian authority.
Come the 1880s, conditions for the Métis and First Nation communities were no better—in fact, they faced more extreme peril as railroads, towns, and privately owned farms developed on their land. In 1884, Riel was urged back to Canada by Métis leaders. He drew up a petition stating Métis grievances and sent it to the first Canadian Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald. When his demands for legal representation and land rights were ignored, Riel organized a militia, which prompted a series of violent battles over a five-month period known as the North-West Rebellion.
Federal forces triumphed over the insurgency by 1885, which led to the concrete establishment of Canadian law across Métis and First Nation lands, and Louis Riel’s execution by hanging. Riel’s body was returned to Riel House for two days before he was buried in Manitoba’s Saint-Boniface Basilica.
Today, Riel House serves as a throwback to this tempestuous era in Canadian history, and provides insight into the Métis way of life. The Riel House remained in the family until it was designated a National Historic Site in 1968, upon which it was taken over and restored by Parks Canada with the Winnipeg Historical Society. Today, visitors will find the house presented as it would have looked in the spring of 1886, in the wake of Louis Riel’s death.
In the Japanese village of Omachi, elderly wasp hunters set traps in the forest. The digger wasps they ensnare are intended for jibachi senbei—rice crackers with a smattering of wasps baked into every bite. The insect-studded snack is the brainchild of a Japanese fan club for wasps and a local cracker-baker.
Digger wasps stings and paralyze other insects before eating them, but after the wasp-loving club members capture their prey, the bugs don't stand a chance. They're boiled and dried, then added to rice cracker mix. A hot iron cracker cutter stamps out the finished rounds. According to one reviewer, the finished cracker has a mild sweet and savory flavor, while the wasps themselves taste like burnt raisins (but with a bitter, acidic note). He also mentions the unsettling sensation of wings and legs getting stuck in his mouth.
On handing out cracker samples around town, the president of the Omachi digger wasp lovers club noted that young people are deterred by the presence of bugs, "But seniors, they love them. We even have an order from a nursing home."
Fourteen bronze sculptures representing different phases of the gestation of a human fetus, from conception to birth, stand outside a medical center. The first sculpture is that of an egg being fertilized by a sperm, and the last sculpture is that of an anatomically correct newborn. Between the two is the detailed development of the fetus, including a sculpture showing twins in the womb.
This artwork, which is by Damien Hirst, was commissioned by Sheikha Mayassa Al Thani. It was appropriately placed in front of the Sidra Medical and Research Center, a hospital with a focus on womens’ and childrens’ health.
Although the statues were originally unveiled in 2013, they remained covered before their official unveiling in 2018. The reason for the double unveiling is that the completion of the building housing Sidra Medical Center was delayed. Officially, the covering was meant to protect the statues from the dust caused by the construction work, but rumors allege that the sculptures were recovered in 2013 to allow their initial backlash to fade.
In an interview with Doha News in 2018, Hirst said that The Miraculous Journey is the first sculpture in the Middle East portraying a naked human body, and that it may cause some controversy, which it certainly did. Critics expressed their dissent in the media, arguing that the artwork was insensitive to the local culture. Curiously, most objections came from abroad.
But art critic Layla Ibrahim Bacha said the work was not meant to please anyone’s aesthetic sensibility, but should instead spark a debate about the importance of healthcare for women and children. In this respect, the artwork exceeded expectations, as the debate went even further than intended, prompting some to discuss the suitability of using art to provoke public debate.
The picturesque town of Pietrelcina is a small village in the Apennine Mountains of Campania. Already a beautiful sight, the town now attracts throngs of faithful Catholics worshipping Saint Pio, one of the most famous saints of the 20th century. Also known as Padre Pio (Father Pio), he gained global celebrity for claiming to exhibit stigmata and supernatural abilities such as communicating with angels, receiving visions, and performing miracles.
Many attractions in the town are dedicated to the mystic saint, who was born and raised in Pietrelcina before taking the Franciscan habit and becoming a friar. Padre Pio was born as Francesco Forgione in 1887 in a poor and deeply religious family of farmers, and soon decided that he would dedicate his whole life to God. The house where his family lived is now open to visitors, offering insight not only into the early life of the saint but also society in rural southern Italy at the turn of the 20th century.
The house museum is actually not a single unit but consists of several rooms along the same street, a small road in the oldest part of the town. One room is the place where Padre Pio was born, his parents' bedroom. It also features a trapdoor on the floor that led to the warehouse where the family's donkey was kept, who was used for transportation between the town and the countryside farms.
Another building on the street hosts two more rooms. One is the family kitchen, which still has the original furniture and fireplace. The other is the children bedroom that Padre Pio shared with his brothers and sisters, often sleeping on the ground with a stone as his pillow. According to the belief, this bedroom is the place where Padre Pio had his first visions and supernatural experiences.
Visit Olsen Fish Company in North Minneapolis, and Don Sobasky from marketing will offer you a heavy flannel shirt before you’ve even taken off your coat. Not because the heater’s broken, but because of the smell, he’ll explain, while gazing around the 119-year-old seafood processor’s headquarters.
The fish factory itself is inside a separate building on the other side of a parking lot. But the pungent scent of its cod and herring products has seeped over into the main office’s furniture and walls. If guests aren’t careful, their clothes catch the wharfside aroma. Ask Sobasky if his clothes reek after a long day on the job, and he’ll reply, “Well, they smell like money to me.”
Founded in 1910, Olsen Fish Company is the type of niche business that could only exist in the Upper Midwest, where millions of Swedes, Finns, and Norwegians forged new lives in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For decades, the company has served as a cultural heritage lifeline, selling Scandinavian foods such as pickled herring, lingonberries, salt cod, and lefse, a thin potato bread. But Olsen’s most famous—or perhaps infamous—offering has always been lutefisk.
First described by Swedish scholar and archbishop Olaus Magnus in 1555, people have eaten lutefisk in Norway, Sweden, and parts of Finland for centuries, although its popularity has waxed and waned. Lutefisk, when translated from its original Norwegian, is self-explanatory: Lut means lye, and fisk is fish. To make it, dried cod is soaked in caustic lye solution for days, transforming it into quivering fillets.
Nobody quite knows who invented it; tales range from someone accidentally dropping a fish into a bowl of lye to “the Swedes trying to poison the Norwegians,” jokes Travis Dahl, a meat salesman at Ingebretsen's Nordic Marketplace in Minneapolis. Once rinsed, the mild-flavored meat is either baked or boiled, then smothered with everything from melted butter to sautéed onions and bacon bits. The smell can linger long after people clean their plates—an odor that’s the butt of many a Minnesotan grandpa joke.
While fragrant, lutefisk was practical. Early Scandinavians needed protein during their long, cold winters, and lye baths softened dried cod to a chewable consistency. When their descendants—including Olaf Olsen and John Norberg, the Norwegian founders of Olsen Fish Company—came to America, they brought lutefisk with them.
Some Midwestern lutefisk fans chow down on the food year-round. But more commonly, it’s eaten during the midwinter, particularly at Nordic fraternal lodges and Lutheran church suppers. Much of it is sourced from the Olsen Fish Company, which is North America’s largest lutefisk factory. Yet Olsen is one of just a handful of companies still making it: a sign of the delicacy’s decline in popularity.
Olsen president Chris Dorff says the factory produces approximately 400,000 pounds of lutefisk per year. This might sound like a lot, but it’s not for Olsen. “In the late ‘90s, we were probably [selling] half a million pounds,” Dorff says. 30 years ago, Sobasky adds, that number was closer to 800,000.
Olsen’s lutefisk sales are currently slipping at an annual rate of roughly six percent per year. On the whole, Scandinavian-Americans are gradually eating less lutefisk. Lutefisk’s wane can be chalked up to the old guard dying out as younger generations eschew it for tastier alternatives. Other factors include marriage to spouses not reared on lutefisk, and a decline in church attendance (meaning fewer Lutheran lutefisk suppers).
Though the future of its signature staple is unclear, Olsen Fish Company’s bottom line is still strong. As of November 2018, the 18-person business was raking in millions of dollars annually, with lutefisk comprising only 10 to 15 percent of the pie. Most of these sales are herring, which Dorff says appeals to a wide range of buyers. But he chalks up Olsen’s current success to Nigerian-Americans and other West African newcomers. These customers are swiftly supplanting Scandinavians as Olsen’s core customer base, guaranteeing as much as 25 percent of their income. Yet Olsen’s Nigerian clientele aren’t buying lutefisk or herring. Instead, they prefer the dried fish used to make lutefisk.
The reason for why goes back centuries. On northern Norway’s Lofoten Islands, fisheries have long dried fresh cod on wooden racks in the Arctic wind. This desiccation process takes several months, and results in preserved cod, or stockfish. Stockfish can be bathed in lye, becoming lutefisk, but Norwegians also export it sans chemical soak.
Stockfish was nutritious and hardy. It would “remain viable for years and when soaked in water would be reconstituted basically to its original state when caught,” explains Terje Leiren, professor emeritus of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Washington. This made it ideal for long sea voyages, thus indelibly tying it to the transatlantic slave trade—and to Norway, which was once part of a dual monarchy with Denmark. During voyages to the Danish West Indies, today’s United States Virgin Islands, stockfish-laden ships would stop in Nigeria.
Many centuries would pass, though, before stockfish became a West African mainstay. The turning point was the Nigerian Civil War, a bloody conflict in the late 1960s that triggered a humanitarian crisis. Norway shipped “many tons” of stockfish to the eastern secessionist state of Biafra to ease malnutrition, says Moses Ochonu, a professor of African history at Vanderbilt University.
Famine or no famine, stockfish fit into the preexisting culinary tradition. “This kind of intense, slightly fermented flavor was already part of traditional Nigerian cuisine,” Ochonu says. While fermented beans and nuts are used in dishes across the country to supply the desired taste, stockfish’s unique, pungent flavor can’t be provided by locally caught fish. Even better, it’s a protein source that keeps without refrigeration. (That said, Ochonu specifies, stockfish is still more common in eastern Nigerian food than in western and northern Nigeria.)
Today, stockfish is an essential ingredient in Nigerian cuisine, although for some it conjures painful wartime memories. Still imported from northern Norway, it’s cut into chunks, softened in boiling water, and used as a base for Nigerian soups and sauces such as efo riro, spinach soup, edikang ikong, a vegetable soup, and egusi, a soup made with melon seeds.
The Norwegian fish has caught on in other West African countries, too—and when chefs from the region move to the United States, they naturally want to recreate their favorite stockfish dishes. Some buy their fish from African grocery stores. Others rely on purveyors such as Olsen, which first began carrying stockfish nearly 20 years ago after a Nigerian local expressed interest. The gamble ended up paying in the long run. “Stockfish sales are going up quicker than the lutefisk sales are going down,” Dorff says. “It’s becoming a big part of what we do.”
Twin Cities resident Precious Ojika, who left Nigeria in 1989, had been ordering stockfish from Houston, Texas. Then, she discovered a purveyor in her own backyard. Hip to their shifting base, Olsen Fish Company had secured a booth at the Minnesota IgboFest, an annual Nigerian cultural event. Ojika spotted them there, and realized she “only had to drive 10 miles and pick it up. It was a dream come true.” Even though demand for Olsen’s premier product is on the wane, the company’s spirit is still alive and well. As always, it continues to serve immigrants homesick for familiar foods.
But while the future looks bright for the Olsen Fish Company, what’s the forecast looking like for lutefisk? It might not be selling much, yet its timeless quirk factor may ensure it sticks around among Scandinavian-Americans. “Lutefisk is the weird uncle in the room,” says Gary Legwold, author of The Last Word on Lutefisk: True Tales of Cod and Tradition. Scandinavians are stereotyped as stoic, he says “but just drop the word lutefisk—all you have to do is say the word—and suddenly the room perks up.” Though the jokes may start flying, Legwold concludes they will always lead to reactions of “Oh, I gotta try that.”