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Posts Tagged ‘History’

A history of alcohol

Hello all!

 

Many apologies for my long absence! Believe it or not- moving across the country and starting your intern year as a medical resident is incredibly time consuming! Add to that, my gnawing guilt about not completing an academic chapter (Aaron, forgive me, but I am working on it!), and writing for pleasure keeps getting postponed.

 

It’s a rainy day in Salt Lake City, so instead of getting out to explore I’m trying to buckle down to finish some academic writing. To refresh my memory I pulled up my PhD thesis to review a couple chapters and happened to glance at my chapter on the history of alcohol. While the majority of my thesis is rather dry, focusing on liver pathology and cell-signaling intricacies, this chapter might actually be interesting to those with an interest in history (and/or booze). For those interested, I’m posting it below!


 

History

Fermentation of foods and beverages is intricately woven into human history and culture, with archaeological evidence of intentional fermentation dating back almost 10,000 years. The biochemistry behind the process was finally elucidated by Louis Pasteur in the mid 1850s [1, 2].

Archeologists have discovered extensive evidence for the historic production of fermented beverages around the world, including in China, Egypt, Iran, Greece, and Georgia [3]. Ancient beverages were made from a variety of products, including rice (sake), honey (mead), fruit (wine), and cereal grains (beer) [4]. One of the earliest and most prevalent sources of sugar for fermentation was, and remains, grape juice (Vitis sp.), with the earliest evidence of large-scale wine production dating back to approximately 5400BC in the northern Zagros Mountains of Iran [5]. Indeed, it is likely that humans’ propensity for wine led to the domestication of Vitis vinifera and the global expansion of the species [6]. It has even been suggested that the earliest agrarian societies converted from their nomadic hunter-gatherer ways in order to increase their ability to produce alcohol [7]!

The first winemaking was probably a mistake, occurring when juice from stored grapes was exposed to natural yeasts that would have fermented in a matter of days [8]. Originally, fermentation was probably initiated by wild yeast, and it is not known when humans started to selectively add specific yeasts to their materials [3]. The success and popularity of the drink is evidenced by the vast and rapid expansion of viticulture throughout Mesopotamia and Europe [8]. It is currently believed that grapes were domesticated between the Black Sea and Iran between 7000-4000 BC [3, 5, 9]. From there, grape production and winemaking spread over the Mediterranean, reaching Greece in 5000BC, Italy in 900BC, France in 600BC and the Americas in 1500 AD [3]. The export of wine was a driving force behind the expansion of the Greek sea trade, and when Rome conquered Greece the Romans adopted winemaking. As the Roman Empire expanded, viniculture and viticulture spread with it. When the Roman Empire collapsed, wine’s place in Christian rituals helped to maintain production. While wineries in the Middle East and North Africa disappeared with the advent and spread of Islam, monasteries in Europe protected and refined the art of wine making. European expansion eventually carried wine production to the Americas, starting in Mexico and heading south into South America. European grapes could not survive in eastern North America, and native varietals were adopted and cultivated for wine production [8]. European cultivars thrived on the west coast of the US [10].

It is believed that the production and consumption of beer arose after the advent of wine, though like wine, the actual date when beer was first produced is unknown. The first beer may have been a result of a batch of porridge that was left to sit too long, and there is extensive archeological evidence of beer production and consumption dating from 4000 to 3500 BC. It is likely that the Sumerians were the first beer makers and it is believed that as much as 40% of their grain production was used to brew beer. While the Sumerians may have invented beer making, the process was quickly adopted by Egyptians [8]. Analysis of ceramics found in Egypt that date from 1500-1300 BC suggests that a combination of cooked and uncooked malt with water and an inoculation of yeast were used to make beer [3]. Most people drank beer daily, and it was used as an offering to the gods. Beer production spread from the Middle East to Europe and Africa, and also began spontaneously in other parts of the world. The Incas, for example, used corn, manioc, and peanuts as the starting material for fermentation in South America [8]. The introduction of hops increased the stability of beer and allowed for greater dissemination of the product because the phenolic compounds in the Hops prevents the growth of gram positive bacteria [11].

In addition to having social and religious implications, beer provided a valuable nutritional source to those that drank it. Only a small amount of the energy in grains is lost in fermentation and the growth of yeast provides a valuable source of B vitamins to an otherwise somewhat nutritionally barren substance. Additionally, in a time when drinking water was frequently contaminated by the products of civilization, brewing (and wine making) provided a valuable source of potable liquid [8].

Both beer and wine provide relatively low percentage alcoholic beverages because of the self-limiting nature of fermentation. As the alcohol concentration of the fermented substance increases, the yeast lose the ability to survive and continue fermentation, therefore, with a few exceptions, beers are generally 4-6% alcohol by volume (abv) and wines are generally 10-14% abv. Variations in alcohol content depend on the availability of substrate for the yeast to ferment and the type of yeast used for fermentation. The process of distillation, by which alcohol is physically separated from water by exploiting differences in the substances’ boiling points, allows for the production of liquids with dramatically increased alcohol contents. Distillation first appeared in Mesopotamia around 4000BC, and was primarily used for the production of perfumes. Sometime later, distillation was used to produce alcoholic beverages, and between 1000 and 1500 AD the distillation of wine in Europe led to the production of brandy [8].

Initially, liquor was perceived as a healthy tonic, even being referred to as ‘aqua vitae’, the water of life.   Distilled liquor had the advantage of decreasing the volume of the initial substance, and improving stability, increasing the ability to transport alcohol throughout Europe and North America. Many liquors are distinctly identified with a geographical location, such as bourbon in the US, tequila in Mexico, Scotch whisky in Scotland, Gin in England, and Rum with the Caribbean [8]. Unfortunately, the availability of relatively inexpensive high alcohol beverages led to abuse and societal problems, and began to be blamed for social and medical problems. Indeed, the English artist William Hogarth depicted the evils of the consumption of gin in his print ‘Gin Lane’, which he compared to the merits of drinking beer in his print ‘Beer Street’.

 

 

The production and consumption of alcohol has had significant cultural, religious, and social implications for millennia and it continues to be important around the globe today. In addition to its roles in social and religious events, alcohol is implicated in a number of facets of human health and disease. Moderate consumption of alcohol has been associated with a decreased risk of certain adverse health events in comparison to those who abstain from alcohol entirely, while the over consumption of alcohol is associated with a number of pathologies and death. The pathologies and benefits of alcohol consumption are varied, as are the mechanisms by which alcohol acts in the body. While some effects of alcohol are due to the direct action alcohol, the process and products of alcohol metabolism are hugely important and warrant significant examination.

 

 

  1. Pasteur, L., Mémoire sur la fermentation alcoolique. . Ann. Chim. Phys, 1860. 58: p. 323-426.
  2. Barnett, J.A., Beginnings of microbiology and biochemistry: the contribution of yeast research. Microbiology, 2003. 149(Pt 3): p. 557-67.
  3. Sicard, D. and J.L. Legras, Bread, beer and wine: yeast domestication in the Saccharomyces sensu stricto complex. C R Biol, 2011. 334(3): p. 229-36.
  4. McGovern, P.E., J. Zhang, J. Tang, Z. Zhang, G.R. Hall, R.A. Moreau, A. Nunez, E.D. Butrym, M.P. Richards, C.S. Wang, G. Cheng, Z. Zhao, and C. Wang, Fermented beverages of pre- and proto-historic China. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2004. 101(51): p. 17593-8.
  5. McGovern, P.E., D.L. Glusker, and L.J. Exner, Neolithic resinated wine. Nature, 1986. 381: p. 480-481.
  6. Cavalieri, D., P.E. McGovern, D.L. Hartl, R. Mortimer, and M. Polsinelli, Evidence for S. cerevisiae fermentation in ancient wine. J Mol Evol, 2003. 57 Suppl 1: p. S226-32.
  7. McGovern, P.E., Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages. 2009: University of California Press.
  8. Wolf, A., G.A. Bray, and B.M. Popkin, A short history of beverages and how our body treats them. Obesity Reviews, 2007. 9: p. 151-164.
  9. Arroyo-Garcia, R., L. Ruiz-Garcia, L. Bolling, R. Ocete, M.A. Lopez, C. Arnold, A. Ergul, G. Soylemezoglu, H.I. Uzun, F. Cabello, J. Ibanez, M.K. Aradhya, A. Atanassov, I. Atanassov, S. Balint, J.L. Cenis, L. Costantini, S. Goris-Lavets, M.S. Grando, B.Y. Klein, P.E. McGovern, D. Merdinoglu, I. Pejic, F. Pelsy, N. Primikirios, V. Risovannaya, K.A. Roubelakis-Angelakis, H. Snoussi, P. Sotiri, S. Tamhankar, P. This, L. Troshin, J.M. Malpica, F. Lefort, and J.M. Martinez-Zapater, Multiple origins of cultivated grapevine (Vitis vinifera L. ssp. sativa) based on chloroplast DNA polymorphisms. Mol Ecol, 2006. 15(12): p. 3707-14.
  10. Soleas, G.J., E.P. Diamandis, and D.M. Goldberg, Wine as a biological fluid: history, production, and role in disease prevention. J Clin Lab Anal, 1997. 11(5): p. 287-313.
  11. Sakamoto, K. and W.N. Konings, Beer spoilage bacteria and hop resistance. Int J Food Microbiol, 2003. 89(2-3): p. 105-24.

 


 

I will be back, with more posts on evolution, medicine, evolutionary medicine, travel, Utah, and life!  Until then…

 

Corolla, we're not in NJ anymore...

Corolla, we’re not in NJ anymore…

 

 

 

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If you’ve scanned through your radio dial any time in the last six months you’ve almost certainly heard the song “Wake Me Up” by Avicci on one of the pop stations.

 

It caught me at the perfect time when I heard it last September. Finishing med school, not sure where I was going to go for residency, being forced to think about what I want to do/where I want to go with my career…  The line “I can’t tell where the journey will end, but I know where to start” really captured my place in time.  I still do not know where the journey will end, but at least now I know that my pursuit of further training in clinical medicine, academics, and research is taking me on a journey to Utah.

 

Back in September another line, “Hope I get the chance to travel the world, but I don’t have any plans.” was also really apropos.  Graduating in January, but starting residency in July, left me with six free months in which I planned to “travel the world”.  But 3 months before graduation I still didn’t have any concrete plans.

 

That didn’t stop me from talking … I knew I wanted to spend a couple of months in Australia and New Zealand, I was dreaming of going to the Galapagos, and I was talking about visiting friends in Belize, but after the three months of rotations and interviews that filled my schedule, my calendar was bare.

 

My dad (and Groupon) changed that.

 

Back in September a travel deal to Turkey came through Groupon that seemed almost too good to be true: 6 days, 6 nights, a number of meals, all transportation (round trip airfare, an internal flight, and ground transportation), and entry into a number of sites all for $1300?  I’d never done an organized tour before (now I’ve done two- this Turkey trip and a tour of the Galapagos), but it seemed worth the risk for such a reasonable amount of money.  After a bit of agonizing over dates, we chose a week, booked the deal, and I finally had some solid travel plans.

 

I’ll admit that Turkey was never on my “to visit” list (not that I really have one, though there are a number of places I’d like to see).  My brother and father visited a number of years ago, and my father’s interest in the culture and history was piqued, and his enthusiasm made me keen to see some of the country for myself.

 

The tour, which was run by Friendly Planet, was booked as “A Taste of Turkey”: just a quick stay, in which you saw a number of the historic highlights on the western coast of Turkey.  For the price, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d found the tour a bit lacking, so you can imagine my surprise when the tour was really 1st class!

 

I’m not going to write out a blow-by-blow description of our trip, but I wanted to share some thoughts and some pictures that I acquired while travelling this part of the world.

 

Our journey started at JFK airport, where we travelled with Turkish Airlines to Istanbul and then on to Izmir.  As I’ve been travelling quite a bit of late, I’ve been taking note of the various airports in the US and around the world.  I hate to admit it, but Biden’s comment about LaGuardia (and by extension, many US airports) being like a third-world country is pretty much spot-on.  I wasn’t overly impressed by the Istanbul airport on our brief layover on the way to Izmir (though having our bags checked all the way through and going through customs at our final destination was nice), however on the way home I was absolutely wowed by the Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul. Talk about luxury!

 

Once arriving in Izmir we were picked up by our guide and taken to Kusadasi.  There were ten of us in our group, which was a great number. At a number of our stops we saw big 50-person busses, and I frequently thought how fortunate we were to have such a nice, small group.  We also absolutely lucked-out with our tour guide.  Isa has 26 years of experience guiding, and is deeply knowledgeable about the geography, history, biology, and religious-importance of the various places that we visited.  He’s actually written books on these subjects, and is truly a thoughtful guy.

 

One of the reasons our trip was so affordable is that we were definitely visiting during the “off season”.  In my book that’s an advantage.  We didn’t have to fight the cruise ship-crowds to see the various sights, and we got to stay in pretty nice, fairly empty, hotels.

 

The first day in Kusadasi we were left to our own devices.  Having taken the red-eye flight, most of us took naps, and then my dad and I took a walk along the Aegean sea, eventually stopping for a beer and a coffee.

 

The next day we started our morning with a trip to the House of Mary- a Catholic and Muslim shrine- near Ephesus.  The area is steeped in history, and while the identity of the original inhabitants on the site will never be known, it has earned pilgrimages from three popes.

 

The House of Mary in Ephesus

The House of Mary in Ephesus

 

The next stop was Ephesus, an ancient Greek city that has undergone (and continues to undergo) a lot of excavation.

 

Ephesus- Much of this was under earth until relatively recently

Ephesus- Much of this was under earth until relatively recently

 

There was marble everywhere in Turkey. I learned that when it comes to columns, the whole Dorian/Ionic/Corinthian denomination wasn’t as simple as my 7th grade history teacher had led me to believe.

There was marble everywhere in Turkey. I learned that when it comes to columns, the whole Dorian/Ionic/Corinthian denomination wasn’t as simple as my 7th grade history teacher had led me to believe.

 

This is the one of the theaters at Ephesus.  These are at all the ancient sites and it should come as no surprise that the acoustics are excellent.

This is the one of the theaters at Ephesus. These are at all the ancient sites and it should come as no surprise that the acoustics are excellent.

 

The most famous structure at Ephesus is the library of Celsus.  It’s amazing to think what was going on in other parts of the world two thousand years ago while civilization was thriving here along the Aegean. 

The most famous structure at Ephesus is the library of Celsus.  It’s amazing to think what was going on in other parts of the world two thousand years ago while civilization was thriving here along the Aegean.

 

Ephesus (and other sites) was literally crawling with cats.  While people don't keep pets in their house in muslim culture, there are large populations of well fed cats in some public outdoor spaces.  They've actually made a documentary on the cats of Ephesus!

Ephesus (and other sites) was literally crawling with cats. While people don’t keep pets in their house in muslim culture, there are large populations of well fed cats in some public outdoor spaces. They’ve actually made a book on the cats of Ephesus! And of course they have a facebook page…

 

In the afternoon we stopped by the remnants of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  There’s not much of it left (when it comes to marble, the inhabitants of this part of the world have been great believers in the principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle!), but it was interesting to see.  Here, like many places, there were buildings (or ruins) from many eras of human civilization.

 

The lone (massive) column at the Temple of Artemis- one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The lone (massive) column at the Temple of Artemis- one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

 

The following day we headed to Pergamon, where we visited the acropolis (ruins, ruins, and more ruins), and then to my delight we had a bonus trip to the aesclepion.

 

Views from the acropolis.  Acropolis is a general term for a fortified area typically built on a hill.  The views were fantastic.

Views from the acropolis.  Acropolis is a general term for a fortified area typically built on a hill.  The views were fantastic.

 

While today these views look out over plains, when this area was originally developed it was on the sea.  The harbor has since silted up and the sea is now miles away.

While today these views look out over plains, when this area was originally developed it was on the sea.  The harbor has since silted up and the sea is now miles away.

 

Fun with arches- there is lots of stunning architectural structures that have stood the test of time (and many that have been reconstructed).

Fun with arches- there is lots of stunning architectural structures that have stood the test of time (and many that have been reconstructed).

 

Walls- These areas were inhabited for many generations.  In this picture you can see the precise construction of the Hellenistic Era in comparison to the more patchwork areas built in the Byzantine era.  Interesting to see how knowledge/technology is lost (The Helenistic era started around 300BC while the Byzantine era started around 300 AD and stretched for more than a millennium.  Sadly, the best preserved artifact at Pergamon, the Zeus Altar, was removed by archeologists over a hundred years ago and now resides in Berlin, Germany (though there is no doubt the Turks would like it back!)

Walls- These areas were inhabited for many generations.  In this picture you can see the precise construction of the Hellenistic Era in comparison to the more patchwork areas built in the Byzantine era.  Interesting to see how knowledge/technology is lost (The Helenistic era started around 300BC while the Byzantine era started around 300 AD and stretched for more than a millennium.  Sadly, the best preserved artifact at Pergamon, the Zeus Altar, was removed by archeologists over a hundred years ago and now resides in Berlin, Germany (though there is no doubt the Turks would like it back!)

 

The asclepion at Pergamon was not on our original itinerary, and I was excited to hear that it was added thanks to renovations at other sites.  Asclepions were Greek and Roman healing temples to the Greek god of medicine and healing- Asclepius.  The one in Pergamon is particularly historic because it is where Galen, a prominent Greek physician and scientist lived and practiced.  Over the years I’ve had a bit of interest in medical history, so this was a cool bonus stop!

 

An underground walkway at the Asclepion in Pergamon.

An underground walkway at the Asclepion in Pergamon.

 

While we’re on the subject of Asclepius and medical history, lets take a quick look at the caduceus.

 

A Caduceus (picture taken at Ephesus).

A Caduceus (picture taken at Ephesus).

 

Even if you don’t recognize the word caduceus, you’d probably recognize the symbol: two snakes entwined around a rod (sometimes topped with wings).  You might recognize this as the US Army Medical Corps insignia (or the insignia of many medical organizations).  This is inappropriate,

 

The caduceus was the staff carried by the God Hermes, and holds no medical significance.  On the other hand, the rod of Asclepius, a god of medicine and healing, would be an appropriate medical symbol.  Indeed, many medical organizations do use the rod of Asclepius as their symbol.  While the caduceus is certainly an interesting symbol, if you want a mythologically appropriate symbol, you want a staff with only a single snake wrapped around it.

 

An appropriate medical symbol, the rod of Asclepius.

A more appropriate medical symbol: the rod of Asclepius.

 

Later in the day we stopped by a co-op where women make and sell traditional Turkish carpets.  There we learned how these pieces of art are traditionally made (complete with natural food diet and traditional silk processing), and even learned how to tie the traditional double knot.

 

Wool colored with traditional vegetable dyes.

Wool colored with traditional vegetable dyes.

 

You want carpets? We got carpets!! (They were stunning, and lovely to walk around on barefoot.)

You want carpets? We got carpets!! (They were stunning, and lovely to walk on barefoot.)

 

The next day was an interesting combination of legend, history, and modern tragedy.  We started the day visiting Troa (the city that has been dubbed Troy).  Like many ancient cities, Troy was originally on the coast, but silt has left it stranded miles from the coast.  There have actually been 9 levels of construction at the site known as Troy.  Archeologists believe that level VII is the level that was in use during the time of the Trojan war, but the structure of the city walls makes the likelihood that a giant wooden horse was used to smuggle soldiers in very unlikely.

 

Nevertheless, the Trojan Horse is alive and well at Troy.  A large wooden horse is a popular photo op for tourists, and the large plastic Trojan horse from the recent Hollywood movie resides in one of the local towns.

 

Silly tourist...

Silly tourist…

 

After visiting Troy we took a ferry across the Dardanelles to Gallipoli.  I have never been to a modern battleground and found the experience very sobering.  The memorial to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC forces), the various graveyards, and the open air mosque and memorial to the Turkish 57th regiment were all very moving.  My knowledge of history is incredibly lacking, but visiting Gallipoli and this part of the world inspired me to read more about World War I than I have since high school

 

Strong words from a great leader (Ataturk) on a memorial at Gallipoli.

Strong words from a great leader (Ataturk) on a memorial at Gallipoli.

 

The open air posque and memorial to the Turkish 57th Regiment.  The story of this regiment, and why they no longer have a 57th regiment, is a sobering story well worth a read.

The open air posque and memorial for the Turkish 57th Regiment. The story of this regiment, and why they no longer have a 57th regiment, is a sobering story well worth a read.

 

Trenches- The Trenches for the ANZAC and Turkish forces were literally 20 feet apart.  There are stories of the forces throwing supplies (chocolate and tobacco) back and forth between the sides, as well as heartbreaking stories of gallantry and honor on both sides. 

Trenches- The Trenches for the ANZAC and Turkish forces were literally 20 feet apart.  There are stories of the forces throwing supplies (chocolate and tobacco) back and forth between the sides, as well as heartbreaking stories of gallantry and honor on both sides.

 

By the end of the day we reached Istanbul, the final stop on our tour.

 

Over the next two days we explored many of the famous sites around Istanbul- The Blue Mosque (aka The Sultan Ahmed Mosque), Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia, the spice market and the grand bizarre.  Recognizing my father’s interest in religion and history, our guide also showed us the slightly less well known Suleymaniye Mosque.  I won’t go into detail (you can search these places on Wikipedia if you’re interested), but the architectural sights were awe inspiring (while I found the market and bazaar overwhelming!)

 

Basilica Cistern- This massive cistern used to be an important water source for the city and was filled by aquaducts (today it holds only rain water that trickles through the roof).  Built between the third and fourth century, and with massive structures built on the ground above it, the cistern is a real marvel.  

Basilica Cistern- This massive cistern used to be an important water source for the city and was filled by aquaducts (today it holds only rain water that trickles through the roof).  Built between the third and fourth century, and with massive structures built on the ground above it, the cistern is a real marvel.

 

 

Topkapi Palace- The detail in the palace was beautiful, 

Topkapi Palace- The detail in the palace was beautiful,

 

More splendor at Topkapi palace.

More splendor at Topkapi palace.

 

The Hagia Sophia is interesting for many reasons.  It is big, it is beautiful, and it was completed in 537 BC, after only 5 years of construction!  It was originally an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral, briefly a Roman Catholic Cathedral, and in 1453 it was made into a mosque.  It remained a mosque until 1931 when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk declared it should be a museum (Ataturk was certainly a remarkable and interesting man, and someone I would like to learn more about).  

The Hagia Sophia is interesting for many reasons.  It is big, it is beautiful, and it was completed in 537 BC, after only 5 years of construction!  It was originally an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral, briefly a Roman Catholic Cathedral, and in 1453 it was made into a mosque.  It remained a mosque until 1931 when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk declared it should be a museum (Ataturk was certainly a remarkable and interesting man, and someone I would like to learn more about).


Inside the Hagia Sophia

Inside the Hagia Sophia

 

One of the amazing murals.  These were covered with plasters when the cathedral was converted into a mosque and are being restored now that the structure is a museum.

One of the amazing murals. These were covered with plasters when the cathedral was converted into a mosque and are being restored now that the structure is a museum.

 

Oh, and remember the cats at Ephesus? They were in the Hagia Sophia as well...

Oh, and remember the cats at Ephesus? They were in the Hagia Sophia as well…

 

The iconic Blue Mosque

The iconic Blue Mosque

 

Truth in advertising- the inside of the Blue Mosque is rather blue!

Truth in advertising- the inside of the Blue Mosque is rather blue!

 

In comparison, the Suleymaniye Mosque was quite pink!

In comparison, the Suleymaniye Mosque was quite pink!

 

Like when I visited a mosque in Abu Dhabi, I had to cover my head when I went into the mosques.  Unlike at the Sheikh Zayed mosque, I did not have to to don a full robe.

Like when I visited a mosque in Abu Dhabi, I had to cover my head when I went into the mosques. Unlike at the Sheikh Zayed mosque, I did not have to don a full robe.

 

The Spice Market- If you’re a fan of Saffron, the Spice Market is apparently the place to get it!

The Spice Market- If you’re a fan of Saffron, the Spice Market is apparently the place to get it!

 

A traditional Turkish delicacy- Turkish Delights.  Authentic stuff is made with Honey. 

A traditional Turkish delicacy- Turkish Delights.  Authentic stuff is made with Honey.

 

Wildlife-

 

I am, without a doubt, an avid naturalist.  This trip was definitely focused on history and culture, but there was still some interesting wildlife to see.  I was intrigued by (and sad to be a little too early to sample) the wild figs, and enjoyed the display of spring flowers.  There were some interesting birds to spot, including pelicans, flamingos, and perhaps the coolest one for me for me- Storks.

 

They come to Turkey in the spring to nest.

They come to Turkey in the spring to nest.

 

So there you have it.  Our “taste of Turkey” (and our taste of Turkish Delights) definitely hit the spot.  I’d love to go back, though there are so many places I’d like to visit I can imagine it will be a while before I revisit Turkey, but you never know.  It is important to recognize that not everything was “sweetness and light”.  In Istanbul there were many Syrian Refugees begging on the streets, and there is certainly plenty of civil unrest in some parts of the country, with many people unhappy with the corruption of the current Prime Minister (it will be interesting to watch where this all goes in the near future).

 

“I can’t tell where the journey will end, but I know where to start.”

 

My plans to travel the world (well, at least to travel for six months) started with a Groupon to Turkey.  Around that starting place I fit in a trip to Belize, the Galapagos, and England.  Tomorrow I head back to Ecuador to explore the highlands with a new friend, and later in April I head to Australia and New Zealand.  When I finally get back to the US I’ll pack up my belongings and drive across the country to Utah.

 

“So wake me up when it’s all over

When I’m wiser and I’m older.

All this time I was finding myself,

And I didn’t know I was lost”

 

Oh- that Avicci song? Those words aren’t his.  They belong to Aloe Blacc, and his version of the song is beautiful.

 

 

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I recently visited the Galapagos (more posts and pictures coming soon).  During that trip I brushed up on some of my Darwin knowledge- in a lecture on board, with some books in the ship’s library, and reading The Voyage of the Beagle on my Kindle. I just got back from a very different trip (visiting family in the UK), but again I managed to brush up on some Darwin, this time by visiting the place where he lived, worked, and died- Down House.

 

Down House, the home of Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) for the last 40 years of his life, is in the village of Downe in Kent.  Here Darwin conducted many experiments, and wrote most of his scientific work (On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) being the most well known).  I am certainly a Darwin enthusiast (some might say a Darwin stalker…), but I expect that even those who have only a mild interest in Darwin, history, evolution, or science would enjoy a tour around this historic site.

 

Down House is located in the village of Downe (the Darwin’s kept the traditional spelling after an “e” was added to the village to distinguish it from the county Down in Ireland), and it has had a number of renovations since it’s initial construction in the early 1700s.  The Darwin’s acquired Down House in 1842, when Darwin and his wife (and first cousin) Emma (nee Wedgewood) wished to escape the hustle and bustle of London with their growing family (at the time they had two children and were expecting a third).  Darwin, in his characteristically frank style wrote, “It is a good, very ugly house, with 18 acres.”, though I think many today would disagree with this assessment!

 

Down House as it is today, with a very excited tourist.

Down House as it is today, with a very excited tourist.

 

Over the course of his 40 years at the house Darwin enlarged it not only for his growing family (he and Emma had ten children, though only 7 survived to adulthood), but also for the comfort of his servants.  Writing to family he said “It seemed so selfish to make the house so luxurious for ourselves and not comfortable for our servants “. One of Darwin’s many interesting (and noteworthy) traits was his humanism.  He was an avid abolitionist (a disagreement with Captain Fitzroy on this subject almost got him kicked off the Beagle), a kind “master” to his house staff, a loving and involved father (an anomaly in Victoria times), and supporter of the humane treatment of animals.

 

Today the name Charles Darwin calls up images of a great scientist, a deep thinker, and a major contributor to human knowledge.  However, this certainly wasn’t the future his family imagined when Charles was a youth.  As a boy he received a classical education at Shrewsbury School.  This was not an education that paired well with young Charles’ interests of beetle collecting (then a national craze), chemistry, and shooting.  His father, a respected physician, is reported to have said “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.”.

 

After his mediocre performance at Shrewsbury School, Darwin was sent to Edinburgh to follow in his father’s footprints and become a physician.  Alas (or fortunately, for the future of science), Charles could not stomach the brutality of surgery in the era before anesthesia, and he returned home after less than two years.  He was next sent to Cambridge to earn a degree so that he could enter the clergy (entering the clergy was a common career path for men from good families with a penchant for natural history).

 

While Darwin did complete his degree at Cambridge, he never went on to study for the clergy, as he was recommended by a mentor to accompany Captain Robert Fitzroy on the Beagle. Darwin wasn’t the first young naturalist recommended for the job (he actually wasn’t on the boat as the naturalist, though he did later rise to this position, his “job” on the ship was to act as Fitzroy’s companion- a gentleman that a captain could talk to amongst a ship-full of burly sailors).  While his father did not support this decision he did eventually let young Darwin (he was 22 at the time) depart on this adventure at the recommendation of Charles’ uncle Josiah Wedgewood.

 

The expedition aboard the Beagle was meant to last two years, but it stretched into a five-year endeavor.  Darwin’s observations during this travel were instrumental in shaping his thinking and his future.  It is rather fascinating to realize that Darwin’s 5-year, around-the-world journey aboard the Beagle was the only travel he ever undertook.  He returned to England in October of 1836, married in January of 1838, and in September of 1842 took his growing family from the strictures of London to Down House where he would spend the rest of his life.

 

Once at Down House, Darwin preferred to correspond with friends rather than travel back and forth to London.  He was a prolific letter writer- spending the equivalent of thousands of pounds per year on stationary and postage.  While it does seem that Darwin was a bit of an introvert, this insular life was largely a result of ill health.  Once an active and lively young man with a penchant for exploring and shooting, he was plagued with illness after his return from the journey aboard the Beagle.  His symptoms, which were present in varying degrees for the rest of his life, included a number of GI problems, palpitations, and extreme fatigue.  There have been many theories about this illness, ranging from Chagas disease to Chronic Fatigue, including lactose intolerance, Crohn’s disease, and psychosomatic disorders.  Whatever the cause, this illness debilitated Darwin, and at Down House he developed a schedule around his symptoms- working when he could and resting when he must.

 

The Sandwalk at Down House, also sometimes known as the Thinking Path, was where Darwin would walk three times a day (health permitting).  There is a walk down around the property with a loop in the woods, and Darwin would walk laps on the circuit deep in thought.  He would kick rocks from one side to the other to keep track of his laps, as his mind was usually on matters other than his number of "reps".

The Sandwalk at Down House, also sometimes known as the Thinking Path, was where Darwin would walk three times a day (health permitting). There is a walk down around the property with a loop in the woods, and Darwin would walk laps on the circuit deep in thought. He would kick rocks from one side to the other to keep track of his laps, as his mind was usually on matters other than his number of “reps”.

 

Down house wasn’t only Darwin’s home, but also the place where he conducted many experiments – on pigeons, barnacles, orchids, and weeds- work that was instrumental in supporting his theory of natural selection.  Of course Darwin was not the first person to suggest that species were mutable, but he was the first to convincingly propose a cogent mechanistic theory and support it with various lines of evidence.  Both he and Alfred Russel Wallace appreciated the implication of Thomas Malthus’ commentary on populations- that sooner or later populations were checked by famine and disease- and both men independently came to the same theory of natural selection based upon the pressures exerted by nature.  However, it was Darwin who first wrote about the theory (though he did not publish it) and who collected extensive evidence to support the theory.

 

The Hot House at Down House.  A collection of orchids and carnivorous plants are maintained here.  This is where Darwin hypothesized that the orchid Angraecum sesquipeda was pollinated by moth with a long proboscis.  This was discovered to be true, 21 years after Darwin's death.

The Hot House at Down House. A collection of orchids and carnivorous plants are maintained here. This is where Darwin hypothesized that the orchid Angraecum sesquipeda was pollinated by moth with a long proboscis. This was discovered to be true, 21 years after Darwin’s death.

 

The Kitchen Gardens.  Not much going on this time of year, but in summer these beds are full.  This is where Darwin did experiments on pin-eyed and thrum-eyed primroses.

The Kitchen Gardens. Not much going on this time of year, but in summer these beds are full. This is where Darwin did experiments on pin-eyed and thrum-eyed primroses.

 

The remnants of some of Darwin’s experiments can still be seen at Down House.  His hot houses (heated by composting manure!), where he maintained large numbers of orchids and carnivorous plants, are still maintained, as are the large kitchen gardens where he studied primulas.  A reconstruction of “The Worm Stone” that Darwin and his son Horace used to study the action of worms is in the garden, and English Heritage, who maintains the house, continues to dig experimental weed plots similar to those that Darwin constructed to study the succession of plants.

A reconstruction of "The Wormstone".  I was being optimistic when I took this pic, and hoped that I wasn't actually taking a picture of the septic system...

A reconstruction of “The Wormstone”. I was being optimistic when I took this pic, and hoped that I wasn’t actually taking a picture of the septic system…

 

Throughout my visit to Down House I was overcome with a feeling of awe.  I grew up with a deep respect and affection for Darwin- my father is a huge fan, to the point where my brother’s middle name is Darwin.  Being the second born I received an equally nerdy though significantly less well known middle name- Lyell.

 

Charles Lyell was a geologist (I actually wrote about him briefly in my first blog post!) and a well-respected scientist.  He was a mentor for Darwin, though it took him a while to come around to Darwin’s theory of natural selection.  He eventually did, and it was Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker who presented Darwin’s and Wallace’s papers On the Tendencies of Species to form Varieties and On the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection to the Linnean Society in 1858. It was a thrill to see Darwin’s portrait of Lyell in his study, as well as various volumes of Lyell’s books in locations throughout the house.

 

Visiting Down House certainly increased my understanding of this great man, and also increased my respect for him.  He was a humble man, a hard-working man, a loving father, and a great mind.  He was also a troubled man- plagued with illness, profoundly concerned by the implications of his theory, and deeply scarred by the loss of children he loved.

This is a picture of Downe Church (not mine) where Darwin would walk every Sunday.  Darwin lost faith in religion after the death of his first daughter, and while he would walk his family to church on Sunday he would not enter the church.  This is where his wife, Emma, is buried (Darwin is buried in Westminster Abbey).

This is a picture of Downe Church (courtesy of wikicommons) where Darwin would walk every Sunday. Darwin lost faith in religion after the death of his first daughter, and while he would walk his family to church on Sunday he did not enter. This is where his wife, Emma, is buried (Darwin is buried in Westminster Abbey).

 

Darwin’s work on natural selection is a classical example of the scientific method.  As a naturalist, especially during his time aboard the Beagle, he made a number of observations.  These observations led him to a hypothesis (natural selection) that he then researched extensively.  He was not purely a “great thinker”, who came up with a theory, but also a patient and meticulous experimentalist who painstakingly showed that species were mutable through pressures of nature.

 

Sometimes in science, medicine, and certainly in the paleosphere we get stuck on an idea or a theory.  We latch on to something that just “makes sense” or fits in nicely with our current way of thinking, and we start to accept it as fact.  Seeing how hard Darwin worked to build evidence to support a theory, which on an intellectual basis was so obvious, reminds me how important it is to not stand on theory alone, but to work diligently towards better understanding through rigorous science.

 

Though sometimes controversial in the US, Darwin is well loved in the UK.  He had a distinguished funeral at Westminster Abbey and is interred near the monument for Sir Isaac Newton.

Though sometimes controversial in the US, Darwin is well loved in the UK (and is featured on the ten pound note). He had a distinguished funeral at Westminster Abbey and is interred near the monument for Sir Isaac Newton.

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