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National Geographic History

National Geographic History November/December 2018

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United States
National Geographic Society
6 Issues

in this issue

1 min.
from the editor

The Sistine Chapel ceiling can feel overwhelming. Myriad figures and colors compete for your attention, pulling your eye from one dramatic moment to the next. God creates the sun and the planets; the first man receives the spark of life; Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden; and terrified people flee the Flood. It’s dizzying to try to take in all the action. Calmer moments are found in the 12 portraits surrounding these iconic scenes. Seven of them are biblical prophets, and the rest are sibyls, five women from the classical world who could see the future. The beautiful Delphic Sibyl graces our cover, and the elegant Libyan Sibyl perches above. Their presence on the Sistine ceiling not only provides moments of respite, it also reveals the respect that Michelangelo and…

2 min.
civil war surgeon’s pit reveals soldiers’ fates

The discovery of a surgeon’s pit at a Civil War battlefield has shed new light on the wounded and the doctors who tried to save them. In 2014 the National Park Service found bone fragments while working on a utility project at Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia. They sent the remains to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Analysis of the bones confirmed that they were human and dated to the Civil War (1861-65). Excavations were led by the battlefield park’s superintendent, Brandon Bies, and the Smithsonian’s Douglas Owsley, Ph. D., and Kari Bruwelheide. Their teams uncovered two complete skeletons and 11 amputated limbs, telltale signs of a surgeon’s burial pit. The first of its kind ever studied at a Civil War battlefield, the site is revealing valuable details…

1 min.
the kindest cut

IN THE 1860S a stomach wound could be a death sentence. Most injuries, however, affected soldiers’ limbs, which surgeons almost always opted to amputate—a process often undergone without anesthesia. Given the trauma of such a procedure, speed was crucial. The severed limbs found in the Manassas pit reveal signs of considerable skill and accuracy in the marks left behind by the surgical saw. It is believed that the field surgeon would first use a scalpel to cut the tendons and flesh around the circumference of the limb until reaching the bone. Peeling back the tissue, he then cut through the bone. The whole process perhaps took less than 10 minutes—a short time from a surgical perspective, but an interminable ordeal for the patient.…

1 min.
connecting two continents

1681 Vitus Bering is born in Denmark. In 1704 he will join Tsar Peter I’s new Russian Navy. 1725 Bering sets out for Siberia. His mission, given him by Peter the Great, is to establish if Asia and North America are connected. 1728 Bering sails through the strait between the two continents, but the North American coast is hidden from sight by fog. 1730s Planning begins for Russia’s Great Northern Expedition to map Siberia and the North American coast, in which Bering will play a key role. 1741 Bering sets foot in North America, but the Danish commander dies before he can return to Russia.…

7 min.
vitus bering: explorer of dire straits

Talented sailors like Bering were welcomed into Peter the Great’s newly created Russian Navy. Although Siberia feels far away to many Americans, it actually sits only about 55 miles from Alaska, which is separated from Asia by the glacial waters of the Bering Strait. The man for whom that narrow passage was named played a vital role in Russia’s early 18th-century attempts to expand into North America. Among the very first Europeans to lay eyes on the coast of Alaska, Vitus Jonassen Bering is credited as commanding the first crew to cross from Asia to northwestern America in modern history, in circumstances of extraordinary hardship and heroism. The Call of the Ocean Despite serving several tsars and tsarinas, Bering was not a Russian, but a Dane. He was born in 1681 in the…

1 min.
the look of a hero

VITUS BERING HAS achieved the rare distinction of being a hero of both his native Denmark and adopted Russia, but there is little consensus as to what he looked like in life. One portrait of him showed him with a round, chubby face and long hair, but experts now widely believe the painting is of his uncle, not him. This 1989 illustration shows Aleksey Chirikov (co-commander of his 1741 expedition) with the Dane (left), who has indistinct features. In 1991 Bering’s body was exhumed by a joint Danish-Russian expedition, allowing experts to study his skull. Based on this analysis, it is now believed his face would have been long and thin, and his body athletic.…