Kentucky Fried Hard Work

February 11, 2019

In his autobiography Harland Sanders tried to sound like a dumb country boy, but he can’t disguise how smart a businessman he was for most of his adult life.  According to information I found on several websites, Colonel Sanders operated a ferry boat across the Ohio River as 1 of his early jobs.  Apparently, 1 mistaken source spawned this erroneous information.  I can find no actual evidence he ever operated this ferry boat.  Instead, he founded the company that built and ran this ferry boat from 1912 until 1942 when a bridge was built in the vicinity and put the ferry out of business.  That is much more impressive than just “operating” a ferry boat.  This was an amazing accomplishment, considering Colonel Sanders dropped out of school during the 7th grade because he hated algebra.  He admired Clarence Darrow–the famous lawyer who defended the teacher in the Scopes monkey trial–so he took a correspondence course in law.  Sanders never passed the BAR exam and may have never even taken the test, but he practiced law in his spare time, while working for the railroad.  He learned enough from the coarse to understand how to set up the ferry boat business.  There already was a ferry service in the area, but it was unreliable and in such poor condition it couldn’t be used for part of the year.  Local people never chose to establish a new ferry because it was mistakenly thought to be a grandfathered-in monopoly.  But Colonel Sanders carefully studied the local laws and determined this wasn’t true.  He established the company, sold stock to investors who purchased the boat, and took a fee of $22,000 (the equivalent of over $300,000 today).  He was still in his early 20s.

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Photo of a middle-aged Harland Sanders with his children and grandchildren before he founded KFC.  He worked hard from the age of 10 until he died at the age of 90.

After reading about this incident I thought I might entitle this article “Kentucky Fried Smarts,” but then I read his entire autobiography and realized hard work was more important for Colonel Sanders’ success than smarts.  Colonel Sanders began work at the age of 10 when he cleared an acre for a farmer.  The farmer was not satisfied and fired him, and Sanders’ mother admonished him for his failure.  Her husband died when Harland was 5, and she was desperately poor, working in a cannery while sharecropping.  But she instilled a tough work ethic in Harland, and the next summer, he got another job working for a farmer and was proud he could keep up with the adults.  His mother remarried, and Harland left home at the age of 12 because his step-father was abusive.  He worked as a farm laborer and as a street car ticket clerk before a short stint in the U.S. Army.  He took care of army  mules in occupied Cuba (the army stayed there after the Spanish-American war to prop up a puppet dictator).  The army honorably discharged him, probably because they discovered he was underage.  Sanders worked for the railroads, sold insurance, and then took a job selling tires.  This last job led to his eventual fame.

The Michelin tire company closed their American factory and Harland had 1 last allotment of tires to sell.  He was forced to hitchhike after his last sale because a few days earlier a bridge collapsed under him, wrecking both family cars (he was towing his son’s car).  An oil company businessman picked him up and offered him a gas station to manage.  Harland took the job and worked harder than his competitors–opening up at 5 am (2 hours earlier than anyone else) and staying up until 9 pm fixing flat tires.  The depression and a drought that devastated local farmers killed this business, but he soon opened up another gas station and added a small restaurant for travelers.  This business expanded to include a larger restaurant and an hotel.  However, years later, a new highway was built bypassing this location, and at the age of 65 Harland knew this was the end.  He sold the business and decided to franchise the fried chicken recipe he’d perfected over the years.  Within 9 years there were hundreds of Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises, and a big corporation bought the business, though they continued to use Colonel Sanders as a spokesman until his death in 1980.

The best way to cook fried chicken is in an iron skillet, but Colonel Sanders realized this took too long.  Most customers didn’t want to wait for 40 minutes. If too much chicken was made in advance, it was wasted and he lost money.  He could fry them in deep fryers, but the chicken took on the flavor of onion rings or shrimp or whatever else had been in the fryer.  So Colonel Sanders developed a method of frying the chicken in a pressure cooker.  The chicken would cook rapidly, and there was no waste.

After Colonel Sanders sold his business he wasn’t happy with the way the big corporations cut corners.  They no longer made a cream gravy to go with the chicken, and there is not 11 herbs and spices in the breading any more.  An independent analysis found just flour, salt, black pepper, and monosodium glutamate.  The Chicago Tribune claims they may have found the original recipe.  The 11 herbs and spices may include salt, celery salt, garlic salt, black pepper, white pepper, paprika, mustard, oregano, basil, thyme, and ginger.  I have duplicated the modern day KFC in my home kitchen, but I have yet to try it with the original 11 herbs and spices.

Reference:

Sanders, Harland

Life as I have known it has been finger lickin’ good

Creation House 1974

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The Mutual Influence of Bob Dylan and the Beatles

February 4, 2019

Bob Dylan first met the Beatles in New York during 1964.  He visited them in their hotel room and brought them some marijuana.  It was the first time Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr ever tried marijuana, though John Lennon and George Harrison had previously smoked lesser quality pot.  More importantly, however, was the exposure they had to each other’s music.  The mutual influence of each produced some of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time, and their creations then influenced rock for decades.  Without the mutual influence of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, there probably would not have been the ballad rock of the 1970s, the glamor rock of the 1980s, and the grunge rock of the 1990s.

Bob Dylan began performing as a folk rock and blues singer, and he had moderate early success with such songs as “Blowin’ in the Wind, and the comical “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.”  Ed Sullivan wouldn’t let Bob play the latter song on his show, so his appearance was canceled.  They were afraid the John Birch Society would sue over being referred to as Nazis in the song.  Bob was a great lyricist, capable of writing a wide variety of songs, and other groups had big hits with songs he wrote.  The Beatles had incredible early success with their syrupy, popular rock songs. The quality of both musical acts dramatically improved after they heard each other’s work.  Bob Dylan started incorporating more energetic rock and roll into his music, while the Beatles began writing more meaningful lyrics than just “She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah” or “I want to hold your hand.”

Bob Dylan introduced the electric guitar to his live act, shocking fans of his acoustic guitar-oriented folk songs.  At a controversial concert in New Port, Rhode Island fans booed, and 1 famous folk singer went looking for an axe to cut the cord.  Nevertheless, Bob ignored the crowd’s reaction and continued to include an electric part of his show.  Folk music fans thought his hard rock was too “commercial” (as if it was a crime to make money). During the next few years he created some of the finest albums of his career including Bring it on Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, and John Wesley Harding. Blonde on Blonde is my favorite Dylan album and I play it over and over.  Meanwhile, the Beatles created Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, The White Album, and my all time favorite–Abby Road. 

This is 1 of the songs folk music snobs booed during Dylan’s concerts of the late 1960s.

This Beatles song is an ode to marijuana which half of the band first smoked with Bob Dylan.  This song was influenced by the Motown sound and Stevie Wonder.

The Beatles broke up in 1970, but John Lennon and Paul McCartney continued to enjoy success through the 1970s when ballad rock became a staple of top 40 music.  Bob Dylan still performs today and regularly recorded new albums for decades after the Beatles broke up.  His albums of the 1970s were uneven–some were almost great, others not so good.  I think he recorded 1 album just to screw his manager.  In 1964 Bob Dylan stupidly didn’t read the contract he signed with Albert Grossman (his shady manager).  He had given 50% of his song royalties to Grossman for 10 years, and this was outrageously unfair. To get revenge Bob recorded a double album of cover songs he didn’t write, so Grossman would get no royalties.  The ironically titled Self Portrait is rated 1 of the worst rock albums of all time.  Other Bob Dylan albums recorded during the 1970s were much better, but he often didn’t choose the best songs he created in these sessions for the albums.  On some he left off the 3 best songs, though they would later be released in his bootleg series albums.

Bob continued to fill stadiums during the 1970s, but the gospel singers he kept around as back-up vocals (and to satisfy his sexual urges) influenced him to convert from Judaism to Christianity.  He became a kind of obnoxious born again Christian and he performed nothing but Christian rock at his concerts.  This turned off a lot of fans, and concert sales suffered.  Some of the Christian rock is actually good (“You gotta serve somebody” is a great song”), but his career success declined.  He has since mellowed out.  He revived his career by playing small theaters and by making better, less religiously-oriented albums.  His concerts included a mix of his popular and obscure songs.  I really admire the way he always played whatever he wanted to play regardless of the audience reaction.

Music created today is terrible compared to that based on the mutual influence of the Beatles and Bob Dylan.  Rap (which 1 loosely could refer to as music) and corporate-sanitized country dominate today’s popular music.  Almost all modern country music sounds the same–there is absolutely no innovation.  And pop songs with electronic mouth organ crap seem to make young people happy.  Modern acts just don’t create good music any more because they are too distant from their roots.

Reference:

Sounes, Howard

Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan

Grove Press 2011

 

 

Real Fried Pies

January 28, 2019

Fried pies probably originated in the mountain region of the upper south during the 18th century.  The Scotch-Irish settlers used whatever ingredients they had on hand to make these convenient, pocket-sized desserts.  Most always had flour, lard, sugar, and dried apples in their pantries; and they could be carried to work to be eaten as a meal or a dessert whenever the laborer got hungry.  It’s hard to find a real fried pie in a restaurant these days.  From 1968-1992 McDonalds made decent fried pies, but then some idiotic corporate executive decided the junk food chain would gain more customers, if they substituted “healthier” baked pocket pies.  I wouldn’t waste a dollar on these phonies.  Some country restaurants still serve fried pies, and road side stands sometimes have them.  But they are rare.  And oftentimes, especially from road side stands, they are many days old and stale.  They are better made at home.

Real fried pies.

Powdered sugar is optional.

I’ve never seen a television chef make a fried pie correctly.  Emeril Lagasse and Alton Brown from Food Network use regular pie crust, and this just isn’t right–they might as well use cardboard.  They also use all-purpose flour which should be known as useless flour because it is good for nothing, except maybe thickening a gravy.  A real fried pie uses a slightly sweetened biscuit dough.  They are kind of a pain to make, so I only prepare them twice a year.  I make a fried apple pie in the winter, and a fried peach pie in the summer.  Take 1.5 cups of pure cake flour (not cake mix) and .5 cups of bread flour and mix them with about 1/4 cup of lard or butter-flavored Crisco.  Lard works best.  Add 2 tablespoons of sugar, a pinch of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder.  The last time I made fried pies I used .5 cup of cake flour, 1 cup of a store brand bisquick flour, and .5 cup of bread flour because I didn’t have enough cake flour, and they were even better.  (I left out the baking powder because the bisquick already has leavening agents in it.)  Add enough buttermilk to make a dough that can be kneaded, and roll it into a flat thin pastry.  Cut the pastry into 6 squares and add some fruit in the middle.  Roll them up and fry them at 375 in rendered beef grease, lard, melted shortening, or corn oil.  Sprinkle powdered sugar on them.

For the fruit filling, dice 2 apples or 2 peaches and sautee them in 2 TBLs of butter and 1 TBL of flour.  Add 1 TBL of brown sugar.  Sautee them until the fruit is soft.  You may add cinnamon to them.  If there isn’t enough apple in the filling, add a little bit of applesauce.

Fried pies are flaky and satisfying.  They should be a little greasy.

Lunch Counter Sit-Ins and Trump Voters

January 21, 2019

Martin Luther King led the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s, and his strategy was to use the non-violent tactics that Ghandi had successfully employed to propel India’s independence from Great Britain 20 years earlier.  In the southern regions of the United States (and some other parts of the nation) African-Americans were not even allowed to sit in a restaurant next to where white people sat.  As ridiculous as this seems, most white southerners supported this policy.  A century after the Civil War they were still bitter over losing that conflict, and they resented being forced to treat African-Americans as equal citizens.  Whenever a white southerner claims they are against the “tyranny of the federal government” what they really mean is they resent not being allowed to oppress African-Americans.  This hypocrisy has always annoyed me.  Many white southerners believe in oppressing other people, yet they act as if they are the victims of oppression.

56 years ago, Civil Rights protestors dared to sit at the segregated lunch counters of Woolworth’s Department Stores.  Below is a photo of 1 famous incident when a gang of mostly white teenagers harassed them.  The Civil Rights protestors used non-violence, and passively sat there while they were being abused.  The young punks dumped milk shakes on their heads, and threw food on them.  Finally, 1 of them dragged an African-American off his stool and repeatedly kicked him in the face, while a white police officer stood by and did nothing.  The police man eventually arrested both of them, as if the victim was just as guilty as the perpetrator.  The Civil Rights movement was ultimately successful…within the following few years both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act officially guaranteed the equal status of African-Americans, though white southerners still opposed these federal laws on the grounds of states rights.  And an extremist right wing Supreme Court has gravely weakened the latter.

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The famous lunch counter sit-in at a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina.  I bet every single member of that white mob that is still alive voted for Donald Trump.

It occurred to me when I looked at this photo that most of the white people in that mob (the shmucks who are still alive, at least) were about 69 years old during the 2016 election and that every single 1 of them likely voted for Donald Trump.  People change.  It’s possible 1 or 2 of them has been enlightened, and now has more liberal views, but I doubt it.  Trump directly appealed to racists and xenophobes in the United States during his campaign.  He still frequently appeals to them during his presidency, making him the most divisive president in U.S. history.  (and, no, Obama was not a divisive president.  It wasn’t his fault that racists kept getting more and more pissed off over the years because a black man was president.)  Trump opened up his campaign by scapegoating Mexicans and Muslims.  This alone should have been enough to disqualify him from getting elected, but instead it awoke an ugly part of America that unfortunately was populous enough to get him over the electoral finish line in our archaic election process.  (The electoral college is a throwback to when the framers of the constitution went out of their way to appease the slave-holding states.)  Now, many politicians are copying his tactic, though I’m skeptical it will continue to work.  White racists are outnumbered.

I hate Donald Trump, but he is just 1 sleazy real estate crook.  I hold more hatred for the disgusting ignoramuses who voted for him.  Trump-voters are the same kind of people who put my relatives in concentration camps during WWII.  It infuriates me how they are so easily taken in by a con artist who plays on their unfounded fears of brown-skinned people.   The latest controversy is over Trump’s racist wall.  The government has been shut down for over a month because of this nonsense.  The wall–an impossible boondoggle–would stop no one from coming in this country.  People can tunnel under it, climb over it, fly over it, come here legally and overstay their visa, or go to Canada and walk across the border where there is no call for a wall because Canada is a mostly white country. Racists don’t fear Canadians.  Hispanics are no threat to us.  In fact they can save Social Security by contributing to payroll taxes.

The racist wall is simply a symbolic message that states brown-skinned people are not welcome here.  That is why it is an immoral wall.  I stand with Nancy Pelosi.

Special Cookies

January 17, 2019

Someone gave my wife and I special cookies for Christmas.  They contained tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient found in recreational marijuana. From the age of 18-30 I almost always possessed marijuana, but I am now 56 years old, and I have not been a regular pot-smoker since I was 29.  I’ve only smoked pot once in the last quarter century and that was from a roach I found discarded near a construction site.  My wife had never even tried marijuana.  Whenever I suggested to my wife that I smoke marijuana she usually got mad at me or told me to wait until it was legal in Georgia.  Her main objection was the illegality of it, though  I never got busted in all the years I smoked pot, except for the time my mom found my stash and flushed it down the toilet.  Nevertheless, I always honored her wishes and part of the reason I originally hooked up with her was because she did not share my enthusiasm for mind-altering drugs.  I decided it would be better for my health, if I was with someone who didn’t want to get high all the time.  So I was shocked when she ate the whole cookie without even consulting with me.

I’ve read that modern marijuana products are much more potent than they were when I was a regular pot-smoker, and I was more cautious than she.  I just ate half of the cookie and planned to eat the other half a few days later on my weekly drinking night–I normally drink a big bottle of white wine every Thursday.  The cookie caused my wife to become giddy and giggly for a short period of time, then she acted quite inebriated for hours.  She told me it felt like she was very drunk.  She actually seemed semi-comatose, and I realized the drug might be interacting with the Prozac she takes.  The next day I researched the interaction between the 2 drugs and learned the combination of marijuana and Prozac can cause either mania or sedation.  It was definitely the latter for her.  I didn’t like my wife on marijuana because she wasn’t bossing me around like she normally does, and I missed that.  She didn’t start bossing me around as usual until about 6 hours after she ate the cookie. (My wife is an overbearing, bossy, brunette–I guess you could say that’s my type.)  I suggested from now on, if we indulge in special cookies, she should just eat half and give me the other half, but she didn’t agree.

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The inside of a legal marijuana dispensary in Colorado.  Edibles are an alternative way to ingest the drug for people who don’t like to smoke.

I could tell a definite difference between marijuana and alcohol–perhaps because I had so much more experience using it.  It was trippy, more like LSD than alcohol; and indeed marijuana is classified as an hallucinogen, while alcohol is a depressant.  In all the years I smoked pot I had never tried an edible.  It took longer to feel the buzz, but I felt just as high.  It seemed weird because I’m used to just alcohol now, though I used to combine the 2 all the time.  The situation I found myself in was also strange.  Back in the day when I smoked pot, I often hung out with peers–cool dudes my own age with similar interests.  But instead I was with relatives–mostly fat old ladies in dodgy health.  When I was younger I would do something after I smoked pot.  I would go to a rock concert or a party or I would go to a bar and strike out with the chicks.  I even would go to work while stoned.  But here I was stuck inside a house with nothing to do.

I noticed more differences between alcohol and pot when I ate the rest of the cookie a few days later.  I started to drink a bottle of red wine and realized I was high enough that I didn’t need it.  I began drinking much more slowly than I normally do.  I became totally paranoid about the internet.  I had a sudden revelation that now the government and the public knows everything about me.  All a person has to do to learn about my personality is look at who I follow on twitter–a few celebrities but mostly sex workers and drug dealers.  This either never occurred to me when I’m drunk or perhaps I just didn’t care, but now I was concerned.  When I used to smoke pot there was no common use of the internet, and this was something new, and I started imagining how the government could spy on everybody through the internet.  Of course, when I sobered up the next morning I didn’t care any more and I was ok with the entire world knowing I’m a fucked up fucker. Besides the government and the public are just not that interested in me.

Alcohol makes me feel overconfident and decisive; marijuana makes me feel just the opposite.  Maybe that’s why they are such a good combination.  It’s kind of a balancing act.  Normally, after I wash dishes during my Thursday night drinking bout, I go watch music videos on youtube, and I know exactly what I want to listen to.  But when I was stoned I couldn’t decide which song to choose.  However, the internet thinks for you sometimes (a scary thought that contributed to my paranoid revelation), and youtube picked songs for me from my past history.  So I sat there and let it choose.  Incidentally, time distortion, another THC intoxication symptom, made dishwashing worse.  It felt as if I was in hell, stuck washing dishes forever.

After watching youtube videos I usually watch the television series, Supernatural, with my wife for an hour and take a break from drinking.  It was a rerun and I could barely follow it.  The effects of the marijuana began to dissipate, and I started drinking faster.  I know I went to listen to music CDs, but my memory of what I did the rest of that night is totally gone.

 

Georgia Before People has Run out of Gas

January 15, 2019

This is just an heads up.  The future content of my blog is about to change.  I started this blog during March 2010 to promote my self-published book of the same name.  I really enjoyed producing new blog entries, and in many ways I think the blog was better than the book itself.  Deciphering the latest scientific journal articles related to my subject into language a layman could understand became 1 of my favorite hobbies.  I’ve managed to keep the focus of my blog on the paleoecology of southeastern North America or at least on any natural history remotely related to it for 9 years, but I just can’t do that any more–there just isn’t enough new scientific literature available.  I’m too prolific and professional paleoecologists can’t keep up.  I’m still fascinated with this obscure topic.  However, I’m tired of relying on speculation, and it seems as if I’m becoming too repetitive.  I feel like I’ve beaten a dead horse until it has turned into an unrecognizable bloody pulp.  Back in November I wrote an 800 word blog entry, then realized I’d already written about the same study a few years earlier.  I just re-blogged the original essay instead of posting a different version of it.

Translating scientific studies also puts a crimp in my writing style.  Because the science isn’t always definite, I’m forced to write awkward phrases such as “the authors of the study suggest…”  too often.  I never want to write that phrase again.

I will still write essays for my blog, but they will no longer be focused on the obscure topic of paleoecology.  I’ll still write about natural history once in a while, especially if there is a new discovery of a Pleistocene-aged fossil site in Georgia or if I have a particularly interesting idea.  But no Pleistocene fossils have been discovered in Georgia since 2006.

I’ve been reading a lot of biographies lately.  I’ll probably write more about people, history, pop culture, food, and (I’m sorry) politics.  My output may or may not become more irregular.  Nothing lasts forever.

The Last Glacial Maximum in the Georgia Piedmont–My Abundant Oases Hypothesis

January 13, 2019

Scientists estimate average annual precipitation in Georgia was just 15 inches during the Last Glacial Maximum (~24,000-~19,000 calendar years BP).  I’ve kept a rain gauge in my backyard here in Augusta, Georgia for 17 years, and I’ve carefully recorded precipitation.  Average annual precipitation in my backyard was 47.8 inches over this time period.  The driest year in my records was 2010 when just 29.5 inches of precipitation fell, and the wettest year according to my records was 2017 when 69.8 inches of precipitation fell.  The difference between present day precipitation totals and LGM precipitation suggests the floral composition must’ve been considerably different then, and many modern day species of plants must’ve retreated to small refugia.  However, there is no evidence of this, and in fact a couple lines of evidence indicate species abundant today were just as widespread during the LGM.

Genetic evidence shows that species common in deciduous forests occurred all the way to the glacial boundary during the Ice Age, despite pollen records indicating spruce forests dominated the landscape from north Georgia to the Ice Sheet.  DNA studies of eastern chipmunks, red and sugar maple, shagbark hickory, beech, and yellow birch suggest they all ranged right up to the edge of the glacier which expanded all the way to southern Ohio.  The ranges of at least 17 species of trees including persimmon, sweet gum, and river birch still reach their northern limits at the ghost boundary of where the massive glacier advanced.  (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/the-ghost-boundary-of-the-last-glacial-maximum-ice-margin/ ) Although genetic evidence reveals discontinuities between populations of species, these appear to be caused by geographical barriers such as major rivers and the Appalachian Mountains.  The genetic evidence suggests multiple diffuse refuges during the LGM for species that are common today.  It seems like a paradox, but I have an hypothesis that can explain this for the Georgia piedmont.  I call it my Abundant Oases Hypothesis, and it can probably be applied north of Georgia as well.

First, temperatures were much cooler during the LGM, so an average annual precipitation total of 15 inches would have gone much further then.  Evapotranspiration rates were much lower, especially during summer.  15 inches of rain and snow may have been the equivalent of 25 inches in today’s climate–similar to an average drought year today.  Second, Georgia’s piedmont soils are mostly clay, and they don’t drain as well as sandy soils.  Water was held longer near the surface when it did receive precipitation.  Third, the hilly terrain of the piedmont was a factor in contributing to oases where flora and fauna could flourish.  Rainwater flowed down hills (this is known as colluvial flow), so the bottom areas between them hosted more plant life.  Although most creeks dried up, there were plenty of areas at the bottom of hills where the water table came close enough to the surface to form intermittent springs.  Beavers dammed springs, making them deeper and helping them hold water longer.  Fourth, major rivers didn’t dry out completely and provided plenty of mesic refuge for species that could expand into oases during phases when annual precipitation increased.

Topographical map of the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge in Jones County, Georgia.  Note the hilly terrain and abundant creeks.  During the LGM colluvial slope flow, intermittent springs, and lower temperatures helped reduce the negative effect of droughts.

My Abundant Oases Hypothesis is speculative.  There are no pollen studies dating to the LGM from piedmont Georgia.  There is 1 site in Winder, Georgia known as Nodoroc where pollen was collected that dates to just before the LGM when temperatures were warmer and precipitation was higher.  Oak and pine were the dominant species, and they co-occurred with hickory, fir, and spruce.  Beech, chestnut, birch, and maple were present.  The shrub layer consisted of hazelnut and blueberry/rhododendron.  There is no sediment dating to between 28,000 years BP-5000 years BP, suggesting land was eroding rather than accumulating sediment during this time period.

This is how I envision the Georgia piedmont landscape during the LGM.  The tops of hills were covered with widely spaced shortleaf pine and post oak.  These were slow growing and ancient because reduced CO2 levels in the atmosphere caused slow plant growth.  Grass, herbs, thorny patches with prickly pear cactus, exposed boulders and rocks, and bare earth occurred between the trees.  Following rare rain events, the ground burst into flower, but most of the year it looked dull and brown.  Deep gullies, red from exposed clay, were common on the hillsides–a result of erosion that commonly occurred due to storms and a lack of topsoil.  The bottoms of hills stayed green longer, and in some low areas hosted springs surrounded by marshy vegetation and deciduous woods of oak, maple, and beech.  These are the oases of my hypothesis.  Megafauna game trails connected these oases with each other, and the river systems where even more deciduous woodlands existed.  This system of oases is what supported the continued existence of species that were able to expand when climatic conditions improved.

Reference:

Soltis, et al.

“Comparative Phylogeography of Unclaciated North America”

Molecular Ecology 2006

 

 

2 New Studies of Pleistocene Lions

January 6, 2019

There were 3 species of lions living on earth during the late Pleistocene.  The African lion (Panthera leo) is the only species still extant.  The cave lion (P. spelaea) ranged across Eurasia from Britain to Beringia which included Alaska and Yukon above the Canadian Ice Sheet.  The giant American lion (P. atrox) lived in North America south of the Ice Sheet from California to Florida.  Some taxonomists formerly thought the 3 lions were the same species, but recent analysis of anatomy and genetics determined they were 3 distinct species.

2 new studies of Pleistocene lions were published last year.  The first study described an unusually large lion skull found in Natodermi, Kenya.  This specimen is estimated to be 196,000 years old. On average cave lions and giant American lions were larger than African lions.  P. atrox was the largest species of lion, averaging 25% larger than African lions, and 1 specimen is estimated to have weighed over 1000 pounds.  (See https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/panthera-atrox-the-1007-pound-giant-lion/ )   However, the specimen described in this new paper (catalogued as #KNM-ND59673) belonged to an individual that may have been larger than any cave lion specimen ever described and even larger than all but 2 known American lion specimens.  The size comparison estimates in this paper were based on dental dimensions.  The authors of this paper believe this individual was part of an extinct population that grew to a larger size because they hunted an extinct species of large buffalo (Syncerus antiquus).  They think it was a subspecies of African lion related to the ancestors of the 2 regional haplotypes of lion that still occur today.  Genetic evidence suggests northern lions diverged from an ancestral population of lions 147,000 years ago, while southern lions diverged 189,000 years ago.  This specimen was found on the border between the 2 modern haplotypes.  Although they don’t think it was a distinct species, they can’t completely rule it out–there just isn’t enough evidence.  It seems likely some Pleistocene African lions were just as large as the other 2 species.  Lions originally evolved in Africa but fossil evidence from that continent is more rare than in Eurasia and North America.

 

196,000 year old African lion skull.

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Pleistocene lions may have grown larger in Africa to help them bring down this large extinct species of buffalo.

The 2nd study described 4 specimens of cave lion found in Medvedia Cave located in the Zapadne Tatry Mountains.  These mountains border northern Slovakia and southern Poland. Referring to this species as the “cave” lion is misleading.  Most individuals never went inside a cave during their entire life.  A cave environment is just 1 of the rare places where their remains could be preserved.  Medvedia Cave is the highest altitude that a lion fossil has ever been found.  The authors of this paper think lions searched through caves for hibernating bears, and groggy bears may have been an important part of high altitude lions’ diets because other substantial prey was scarce here.  Some scientists think cave lions were solitary hunters or perhaps hunted in pairs, unlike social African lions that live in large prides.  I disagree with this notion.  Adult male lions grow too large and bulky to hunt prey effectively, and they depend upon females to bring them food.

Lions were more widespread during the Pleistocene because human populations were sparse.  Humans have outcompeted lions since then.  If not for the rise of humans, lions would still be just as widespread as they used to be.

Reference:

Manth, F. ; et. al.

“Gigantic Lion, Panthera leo, from the Pleistocene of Natodermi, eastern Africa”

Journal of Paleontology 92 (2) Novemeber 2018

Sabol, Martin; Juraj Gullar and Jan Harrat

“Montane Record of the Late Pleistocene Panthera spelaea (Goldfuss 1810) from Zapadne Tatry Mountains (northern Slovakia)”

Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology  38 (3) 2018

See also: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/uf9076-a-complete-skull-and-jaws-of-a-giant-lion-panthera-atrox-found-in-the-ichetucknee-river-florida/

Late Pleistocene Megameanders

December 30, 2018

Glacial recession during the end of the last Ice Age caused dramatic changes in the climate and river drainages of southeastern North America.  All that melting Canadian ice released moisture into the atmosphere and average annual precipitation in the region tripled to an estimated 47 inches.  But average temperatures were still cooler than they are today and as a result evapotranspiration rates were lower. This increased precipitation and reduced evaporation caused rivers to meander more than they do today.  These supermeanders eroded scars that are still visible in satellite photographs.  Recently, scientists studied 6 paleomeander scars adjacent to the Oconee, Ogeechee, Black, Neuse, Pee Dee, and Congaree Rivers.  These rivers are located in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

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Satellite photo of a paleomeander scar located along the Oconee River.  From the below referenced paper.

The scientists found these paleomeanders dated to between ~17,000 years BP-~11,000 years BP.  The scar next to the Oconee River was radio-carbon dated using a 17,000 year old pine log.  The supermeanders cut through the former braided channels that existed during the Last Glacial Maximum when rivers shrank and became clogged with sandbars due to aridity.  Eventually, when present day climatic conditions began to predominate, the supermeanders became cut-off from the main flow of the river.  For awhile they existed as oxbow lakes but then filled with clay and sand.  Scientists estimate the supermeanders were 2-5 times larger than modern meanders and the discharge was up to 4 times larger.  The typical flow was equal to a modern day 5 year flood event.  Scientists aren’t sure of the exact mechanism that caused supermeanders.  It was likely a combination of increased precipitation, low evapotranspiration rates, and seasonal monsoons.  The distance between the frigid air over the Laurentide Ice Sheet and tropical air was much smaller during the Ice Age, and this could have caused an increase in major storm events.

I hypothesize canebrakes and river bottomland forests really expanded during the supermeandering phase.  Canebrakes are a now nearly extinct environment consisting of pure stands of bamboo cane.  Canebrakes formerly occupied hundreds of square miles of river bottomland in the southeast, but European settlers cleared them for agricultural purposes.  They were the most fertile pieces of land in the region.  Canebrakes depend upon a complex regime of flood and fire.  Suppression of either results in the growth of river bottomland forests that shade bamboo out.  During the late Pleistocene canebrakes attracted herds of bison and horses which fed on the nutritious bamboo.  Newly arrived humans facilitated the spread of canebrakes by setting fire to the landscape.  However, canebrakes must have also existed along the braided rivers of the Glacial Maximum, perhaps growing on the sandbars in the middle of partially  dried up rivers. The supermeander oxbow lakes likely hosted the last North American capybaras and giant beavers (Casteroides sp.) before they were hunted into extinction by people.

Reference:

Suther, Bradley; David Leigh, George Brook, and L. Yann

“Megameander Paleochannels of the Southeastern Atlantic Coastal Plain, USA”

Paleogeography, Paleoclimatology, and Paleoecology July 2018

2 Additional Extralimital Bird Species found in Florida’s Fossil Record

December 22, 2018

Some species of birds that lived in Florida during the Pleistocene no longer occur in state or even the region.  A few of the more notable species include the California condor, magpie, and trumpeter swan.  The extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna caused the extirpation of condors and magpies because they depended upon scavenging these animals as their most important food source.  Other species of birds periodically disappeared from the state due to sea level rise when their nesting habitat became inundated.  During some climate phases most of Florida became submerged, and a number of bird species simply never recolonized the state.  I was reading through an article on the University of Florida Museum website the other day and learned of 2 additional species that lived in Florida during the Pleistocene but no longer occur in state–the Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) and the northern jacana (Jacana spinosa).

See the source image

The Manx shearwater is an oceanic bird that nests in burrows on islands.

See the source image

Manx shearwater range map.

The Manx shearwater is an oceanic bird that nests in burrows on rocky islands off the coasts of Canada and Europe.  They migrate to the South Atlantic during winter, flying over open ocean where they prey on small fish schooling near the surface.  They rest by floating on top of the water.  Scientists don’t know how they navigate to the same island colonies year after year.  During Ice Ages when sea level fell and the land area around Florida expanded there must have been some offshore islands that emerged and provided nesting sites for colonies of Manx shearwaters.  Islands emerged above sea level off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina as well, and Ice Age oceans probably hosted higher populations of Manx shearwaters than exist today.  I couldn’t determine from the available information where fossil remains of this species were found in Florida.  It’s not listed in the Florida Museum of Natural History database and neither is the northern jacana, though I did find a paper that notes the presence of this species at 2 fossil sites.

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Northern jacana.

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Northern jacana range map.  Inundation by rising sea levels probably caused the extirpation of this species from Florida.

The northern jacana inhabits marshes.  This species of bird often walks on floating mats of vegetation while it hunts the small fish and insects it preys upon. Because it appears to walk on water, it is sometimes referred to as the Jesus bird. Fossils of this species have been found at 2 sites in Florida–Lecanto 2A and Leisey Shell Pit.  It likely became extirpated from Florida when rising sea levels eliminated its favored habitat.