By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor
The Monacan Indian tribe is fighting furiously to preserve its ancestral capital, Rassawek, located on the Virginia peninsula where the Rivanna and James Rivers converge. Plans to develop a $10 million water pumping station to support population growth in the region threaten to cause irreparable harm to the land, which includes an ancient burial ground.
Rassawek is on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2020 list of the 11 most endangered places in the United States. The land includes the location of a 12-foot-high mound, excavated in 1783, that held the remains of roughly a thousand men, women, and children. (Pictured above, Monacan Chief Kenneth Branham on the land.)
“As colonists flooded the region during the 17th and 18th centuries, the tribe abandoned their fertile lands along the rivers,” Andrew Lawler writes for NatGeo (pictured below, a map of Monacan lands in the 17th century). “Among those settlers was Thomas Jefferson, who built his famous Monticello estate upstream from Rassawek on ancestral Monacan land."
More than 2,000 Monacans are spread across the U.S., with 500 in Virginia, just north of Lynchburg. The Monacans were denied access to public schools and employment as late as the 1960s, according to University of Virginia archaeologist Jeff Hantman in a recent book, Monacan Millennium. Not until 1989 did Virginia grant them state tribal status, and they won federal recognition only in 2018.
The other sites on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of 11 most endangered places in the United States include Yates Memorial Hospital in Ketchikan, Alaska, a hospital built in 1905 where women cared for the sick and injured; the Alazan-Apache Courts in San Antonio, a public housing complex rich in Mexican American history, built from 1940 and 1941 when housing, schools and public facilities were segregated; and the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, the church were Mamie Till-Mobley held an open casket funeral for her son, Emmet Till, in September 1955 so the world could see the condition of his body. Till was brutally murdered in Mississippi after being accused of whistling at a white woman. His murder galvanized the Civil Rights Movement. Till’s casket is displayed at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
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Today in a minute
Now there are eight: Saturday’s nomination to the Supreme Court of Amy Coney Barrett (pictured above with President Trump) makes her just the eighth person with that distinction who was not a white male. The first was pivotal civil rights campaigner Thurgood Marshall, who was confirmed and who took his seat on the bench 53 years ago this upcoming Saturday. Of the five previous women nominated, only one didn’t make it onto the bench. Former White House counsel Harriet Miers, selected in 2005 by President George W. Bush, ran into strong opposition from conservatives who were unclear about her stance on abortion. The official reason for Miers’ withdrawal from Senate consideration was that she did not want to disclose confidential advice she gave Bush in the White House.
Look in the well: Egyptian archaeologists have unearthed 27 ancient coffins near the Step Pyramid south the Cairo. The 2,500-year-old sarcophogi weren’t found in the pyramid, but in two wells outside it, Afar reports. Archaeologists were still working to determine the origins of the coffins, buried in the vast necropolis outside the ancient city of Memphis.
It was 60 years ago Saturday: A young Dan Rather watched the first-ever televised presidential debate, between John F. Kennedy and then-Vice President Richard Nixon—and told us that he had the distinct impression after watching that the lesser-known Kennedy might actually win. That Kennedy-Nixon showdown was the start of a televised debating tradition that continues tomorrow night with the first of three Trump-Biden debates. The four 1960 debates were not without dirty tricks, Bill Newcott writes for Nat Geo. At the second debate (pictured above) Kennedy operatives, knowing Nixon’s propensity to sweat, turned up the thermostat in the studio.
Everest without supplemental oxygen: R.I.P. Ang Rita Sherpa, who grew up raising yaks in the shadow of the world’s highest mountain, climbed its peak 10 times without oxygen, but quit ascending to summits after a deadly 1996 Everest expedition. He died in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, at 72 after suffering lung and brain ailments, the New York Times reported. Nicknamed the Snow Leopard, he carried supplemental oxygen for other climbers but never felt the need for it as he ascended into the “death zone” above 8,000 meters. “He challenged science and human physiology,” said Ang Tshering, the former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.
Related: A new measurement for Everest
Instagram photo of the day
Offerings: Alongside the Ganges in Varanasi lies a white sand beach, where members of India’s Aghor sect perform rituals during the new moon. Two Aghor members are performing the puja, a ritual based on chanting mantras and offering alcohol and cannabis to the sacred fire. The Hindu sect consumes human flesh for some rituals—from corpses found floating in the Ganges—and immerse themselves in environments where death surrounds them. “They live and perform their rituals in cremation grounds,” writes photographer Tamara Merino, who spent a month with them, “but despite their extreme practices and lifestyle, a true Aghor will never hurt another being.” More than 330,000 people have liked this image since it appeared two weeks ago on our Instagram page.
Related: Photographer Tamara Merino among 8 named new National Geographic Society Emerging Explorers
The big takeaway
Purple Reign: The colorized illustration (above) depicts the manufacture of Tyrian purple dye in ancient Phoenicia. The dye, crafted from sea snails, was so central to the people in a strip of present-day Lebanon, Syria and Israel that the Greek name for them—Phoenicians—is thought to relate to purple. Kings valued the purple-dyed fabrics and other products from the Phoenicians, who traded from India in the east to at least as far west as modern-day Morocco, Mark Woolmer writes for Nat Geo’s History magazine.
In a few words
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King Tut’s grandparents: We know so much about ancient Egypt because of the rich artworks and extensive documentation during the prosperous and nearly four-decade rule of Amenhotep III (left) and his powerful wife, Tiye (right). Perhaps the most magnificent construction was Amenhotep’s funerary temple, built on the west bank of the Nile near Thebes (modern-day Luxor), Teresa Armijo writes for Nat Geo’s History magazine. Flooding and later pharoahs took much of the temple’s riches; the mummified bodies of Amenhotep and (more recently) Tiye were found in another tomb.