National Geographic History November/December 2021

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United States
National Geographic Society
6 Issues

in this issue

1 min
from the editor

Thundering drums and a piercing war cry kick off “Immigrant Song,” the first track on Led Zeppelin’s third album. Coming in at only 2 minutes, 26 seconds, the song is a lightning strike taking listeners back in time to the Viking age, when fearsome invaders “from the land of the ice and snow” stormed across Europe. Sailors and warriors, raiders and traders, the Northmen used their swift longships to travel as far as Iran in the east, Canada in the west, and Morocco in the south between A.D. 750 and 1066. In this issue, we focus on the Viking campaigns in the Mediterranean. I had “Immigrant Song” on repeat while working on the story, which I hoped would match the song’s speed and simplicity. That was not to be, for the…

3 min
africa’s oldest human burial discovered

When a three-year-old boy was laid to rest by Stone Age people in East Africa, little did they know that his legacy would be honored by humans 78,000 years later. Discovered in Panga ya Saidi, a cave near the Kenyan coast, this child’s grave is Africa’s oldest human burial, according to a detailed report published in Nature. A Tender Farewell Researchers named the boy Mtoto, Swahili for “child.” Older burials of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals have been discovered in the Middle East, dating as far back as 120,000 years. Mtoto’s grave is exciting to researchers because it provides the strongest clues about how burying the dead was a ritual practice for early humans living in Africa. After Mtoto’s death, his people dug a pit in a cave, wrapped the child’s body in a shroud…

1 min
‘excavating a shadow’

MTOTO’S STORY was unlocked by an interdisciplinary team led by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany. Archaeologists first found a pit in Panga ya Saidi filled with bones in 2013, but later removal attempts damaged its contents. The pit was encased in plaster and then sent to the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi. The team feared that an entirely manual excavation could further damage the remains, and so they ultimately sent the plaster pit to Spain’s National Research Center on Human Evolution. “It was like excavating a shadow,” said the center’s María Martinón-Torres. Over the course of a year, researchers combined manual and virtual excavation techniques to inch closer to the skeleton within. Using a high-resolution x-ray and surface scanner, they began to…

1 min
the life behind little women

1832 Louisa May Alcott is born near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1840 her family will move to Massachusetts. 1863 After serving as a Civil War nurse in Washington, D.C., Alcott publishes her much-praised Hospital Sketches. 1868 Following her publisher’s request for a story for girls, Alcott writes Little Women. In 1871 she will pen a sequel, Little Men. 1886 Alcott devotes time to women’s suffrage and other causes. She publishes Jo’s Boys, the last book in the trilogy. 1888 Alcott dies from a stroke at 55, likely because of mercury-laden medicine used to treat typhoid fever during the Civil War.…

7 min
louisa may alcott, author of her own story

Following publication of Little Women in 1868, Louisa May Alcott was popularly known as the “children’s friend,” a moniker that became the title of the first biography written about her in 1888. The warmhearted stories she told in Little Women about the March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—growing up in Civil War–era Massachusetts, made her one of America’s best-selling and best loved authors. Little Women spawned two sequels, stage plays, numerous films, more than 10 TV adaptations, a Broadway musical, and an opera. It has sold an estimated 10 million copies and been translated into as many as 50 languages. Alcott went on to write fiction for the rest of her life. Literary historians now know that she had an earlier, hidden career, in which she had produced a significant number…

1 min
the question of marriage

WITH THE EXCEPTION of a brief European romance, Alcott herself was more committed to writing and her immediate family than to landing a husband. Unlike the March sisters, including Jo (whom Alcott’s publishers pushed into a marriage at the end of Little Women), Alcott never wed or gave birth to any children. She did care for a niece, Lulu, after the death of her youngest sister, May. In Little Women Jo is never shy with her criticisms of marriage, but Alcott saves her probably most telling quote on matrimony for Amy March’s husband Laurie: “For marriage, they say, halves one’s rights and doubles one’s duties.”…