National Geographic : 1991 Jun
Geographica Luxury Cast-offs for Mount Vernon Slaves? he chief archaeologist at George Washington's Mount Vernon was surprised as he studied the artifacts he and his team had dug up. "Most of what we found I would expect to find around a planter's house," he said. But Dennis J. Pogue and his team had been excavating a six-foot square trash-filled cellar beneath the quarters of the house slaves at Washington's Virginia mansion. "They were still victims of a dehu manizing institution," Pogue says, but the high quality of the ceramic sherds-including some of imported Chinese porcelain-and the buck les, buttons, and fragments of glass es and wine bottles suggest that these slaves lived better, in a mate rial sense, than might be expected. More evidence comes from the animal bones found in the slaves' trash. It suggests they could trap, fish, even hunt to give themselves a better, more diverse diet than most slaves are believed to have received. The 60 or so slaves who lived in these quarters a few hundred yards from the mansion were weavers and spinners, house servants and black smiths. Whether slaves who toiled in Washington's outlying tobacco fields lived as well is not known. As for the ceramics, Pogue thinks that George and Martha Washing ton passed them on when they be came chipped, cracked, or merely unfashionable. U. S. Tick Collection Finds a New Home The U .S. government has solved the problem of who should pay for the upkeep on a million dead ticks by sending them to Georgia. The National Institutes of Health has shipped the National Tick Col lection to Georgia Southern Univer sity in Statesboro with a five-year, million-dollar grant to maintain it. The Smithsonian had held the col lection since 1983 but could no lon ger store it. Curator James Keirans (below), who accompanied the col lection to Georgia, is one of the world's top experts in identifying NICKARROYO National Geographic,June 1991 ticks, which carry such infectious diseases as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease (GEOGRAPHIC, January 1991). The university will support the collection when the grant expires. The collection-by far the world's largest, with specimens from 760 of the 850 known species-is a vital tool in determining if a tick could be carrying disease. "I'm talking about an animal that can transmit diseases that can kill you," Dr. Keirans says. Unexpected Study Yields Data on Mystery Cat Warren Johnson and William Franklin didn't plan to study the habits of the wild Geoffroy's cat. But when several of the elusive felines were captured as the Iowa State University scientists tracked Patagonia pumas (GEO GRAPHIC, January 1991)-well, says Johnson, "It would have been a crime to throw away the data." Geoffroy's cat, named for French naturalist Geoffroy St. Hilaire, is a spotted feline about two feet long, found from southern Brazil and Bolivia to the tip of South America. Its pelt has been the world's most commonly traded cat pelt: Argentina alone exported some 450,000 skins from 1976 to 1980. But despite its familiarity to local trappers, scientists knew nothing of the cat's behavior. GAILBLUNDELL Johnson, Franklin, and their team captured nine cats, fitted them with ear tags and radio collars, and set them free. They found that the cats, especially males, are generally loners; that they roam areas with dense vegetation at night; and that their prime prey are European hares, especially during the spring and summer, when the hares pro duce their young.