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What can history teach us about a female future?

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By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor

If you exclude women from the historical record, it’s easy to lose sight of the significant contributions women have made. From the earliest military warriors who helped take down empires to previously snubbed scientists who were instrumental in critical discoveries, National Geographic’s November issue celebrates the rising power of women’s voices on the centenary of women’s suffrage in the United States.

In her recent book, Women Warriors: An Unexpected History, Pamela Toler highlights Cynane, Alexander the Great’s half sister, who commanded Macedonian armies before she was 20 years old, and the Arab queen Mawiyya, who led a 4th century A.D. revolt against the Romans. These warriors are among an important list of historical and contemporary women featured in the special issue.

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“Examining women’s work over centuries, not as it was portrayed in tapestries and paintings and literature, but rather as it was actually conducted with callused hands and financial acumen and clever strategy, is enlightening and heartbreaking,” journalist Michele Norris writes. “Why don’t we know more about these brave women? How is it that their stories have been overlooked or erased?”

Author Angela Saini reminds us that astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell missed out on a Nobel Prize in 1974 for her work on the discovery of pulsars, which was given to her boss, Antony Hewish. When Bell Burnell was awarded a special breakthrough prize last year, she donated the $3 million prize to women and other groups underrepresented in physics.

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Today in a minute

In witch hunts, it’s Scotland > Salem. This is the season of the witch in the Massachusetts town of Salem, whose show trials and executions in 1692 evoked a phrase politicized by Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. However, Scotland endured five intense panics between 1590 and 1662 that made Salem’s mayhem look minor league. Scotland executed about 2,500 accused witches, most of them women. Often their “confessions” were exacted through torture.

Not quite extinct yet: Taino indigenous groups, in the Caribbean long before Columbus, say they are victims of a “paper genocide.” They have been airbrushed from history books based on faulty census data, which backed a long-held claim that they had died out. Recent studies show 61 percent of Puerto Ricans, a third of Cubans, and about a quarter of Dominicans have Native American mitochondrial DNA. “All along,” writes Jorge Baracutei Estevez, “we have been writing ourselves back into history.”

More clues: Strange artifacts have been found at the site of what is considered Europe’s oldest battleground, along the Tollense River in northern Germany. Thirty-one bronze objects were discovered, including an awl, a chisel, and a knife—items found previously only hundreds of miles away. That’s in addition to previous discoveries of weapons and the human remains of hundreds from the Tollense battle, which happened around 1200 B.C. “It’s more and more likely that we are not dealing with a local conflict,” says archaeologist Thomas Terberger.

Made in Japan: We’re talking about fortune cookies, of course. The treat, often considered Chinese, got its start in Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868), say bakers still making the cookies near Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine. The zoologist Edward Morse, in Japan in the 1880s, wrote they “tasted like a gingersnap without the ginger,” according to Atlas Obscura. One place in Japan where they are not found? Restaurants.

Your Instagram photo of the day

The Viking and Slav Festival, on the Polish island town of Wolin, featured reenactments and celebrated culture from the Viking Age, writes photographer David Guttenfelder on our Instagram page. Skol!

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Overheard at National Geographic

"Do you know about the birds that attacked us?” That’s National Geographic’s Rachel Hartigan Shea, talking about a frightening two evenings in August on a vessel docked off the Pacific island of Nikumaroro. Shea, reporting on an exhibition searching for traces of lost aviator Amelia Earhart, found herself and fellow crew members targeted by boobies—hundreds of the big, loud, gull-like birds. Squads swooped onto the picnic table on the ship’s stern; others assaulted the entrance of the ship’s control room. Ocean explorer Bob Ballard, no stranger to danger, managed to throw two off the ship. Were the birds disoriented by a storm? Attracted by the lights? “Nobody knew exactly," says Shea, who recovered enough to face off with colossal coconut crabs. But that’s another story.

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Tomorrow, TRAVEL executive editor George Stone talks about New York’s just-reopened Museum of Modern Art and how travel helps a person discover new vistas in architecture, design, and culture. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here.

One Last Glimpse

Making history. Growing numbers of women are serving on the front lines worldwide, taking the baton from women warriors of the past. Lynsey Addario covered women in uniform in several countries, including USMC Cpl. Gabrielle Green, shown here hoisting a fellow Marine in practice for removing a wounded colleague from the field. To Marine Lt. Col. Misty Posey, a former commander of female recruits, the challenge is clear: “Women learn weakness. We can also unlearn it."

This newsletter has been curated by David Beard. Have an idea or a link for us? We’d love to hear from you at justwondering@natgeo.com. And thanks for reading!