Another meteorite hits house in Conn.

A small meteorite was discovered Wednesday after hitting a house in Waterbury -- and from the looks of it, the Gods in charge of hurling rocks at Earth are aiming for Connecticut towns that begin with "W."
Oddly, all but one of the reported meteorite strikes in Connecticut over the centuries have occurred in towns beginning with the letter "W": Weston in 1807, Wethersfield in 1971 and 1982, Wolcott and Waterbury in 2013.
The Wethersfield occurrences were of particular interest, improbably hitting houses only 1½ miles apart and separated in time by 11 years.
Professor Stefan Nicolescu, mineralogist at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, said the last two rocks to hit the state were likely from the same event.
The Wednesday discovery came just 19 days after a meteorite landed on a house in Wolcott and it landed less than a mile away from the earlier meteorite. It smashed through the Waterbury house's gutter and landed on the lawn. It was a recent event, although no one knows exactly when it happened, so both may have fallen at the same time, Nicolescu said.
"The first impression is that you would think that the two are connected," he said. "The Waterbury one was not an `observed fall,' so we really don't know exactly when it fell. We do know that it fell very recently, however."
He hasn't analyzed the Wolcott object yet, and he said that he won't know for sure whether the two space rocks are connected to the same objects until he has a chance to look at it.
So is Connecticut in the crosshairs of some sort of bizarre cosmic shooting gallery? Nicolescu says no.
"The Earth is hit by 15,000 tons of extraterrestrial material a year," he said, adding that since Connecticut is densely populated, the likelihood of finding meteorites are quite good.
He added that there are quite a few "meteor-wrongs" in the state, most of which are pieces of slag from blast furnaces in the city of Bristol.
"They're very strange-looking when you look at them, he said.
Cathryn J. Prince of Weston, who wrote about the 1807 Weston meteorite in her book, "A Professor, a President, and a Meteor: The Birth of American Science," said meteorites back then were truly terrifying to people of the time; rocks were not supposed to fall from the sky.
"In fact, many thought that they were some sort of weather phenomenon," she said.
Whereas the Wolcott meteorite split in two, the Waterbury object was found intact. It is about the size and shape of an avocado and weighs 1.6 pounds.
The homeowner contacted Nicolescu, the mineralogy collections manager at the Peabody, who also confirmed the identity of the Wolcott meteorite from last month.
Last month, a baseball-sized meteorite crashed into a Wolcott house damaging a roof and the attic. Area police reported that several residents reported hearing loud booms that night.
Wethersfield made Connecticut history by having meteorites hit two separate homes between 1971 and 1982. In both cases, the homes were occupied when the meteorites came crashing through the ceilings, although no one was injured.
The Weston meteorite fell Dec. 14, 1807. According to Prince, most of it fell in what is now Easton, which was founded in 1845 from 28.8 square miles carved out of Weston. Today, it's believed that none or almost none of the pieces fell in present-day Weston, although pieces were found in a swath that extended from Monroe to Fairfield.
The object was sufficiently bright to illuminate fields and barns, and there were reports of something strange streaking across the sky from as far away as Rutland, Vt.
The meteor broke up as it slammed into the earth's atmosphere at about 65,000 mph, and it soon seemed that Weston was a target of an artillery barrage, as dozens of rocks, one weighing 200 pounds, landed in the snow-covered fields.
According to Prince's book, the Weston meteorite provided the spark that over time turned the new nation, then populated largely by people who believed in the supernatural, into a scientific powerhouse.

1928: A Connecticut Writer On Understanding Disaster and Loss

Longtime Hamden resident Thornton Wilder received the Pulitzer Prize 75 years ago this month for his play, 'Our Town', but 85 years ago he received a Pulitzer for his novel, 'The Bridge Of San Luis Rey' — a book that continues to speak to us.
In the wake of recent terrorist attacks such as 9/11 and last month’s Boston Marathon bombing, questions often arise about why innocent people die or get maimed. Why are some spared and others not? Is there any rhyme or reason to it? These questions are front and center in Thornton Wilder’s 1928 Pulitzer Prize winning novel,The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

The novel’s famous opening sentence plunges us right into a disaster: “On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.” Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk, witnesses the sudden violent deaths of these five people. He spends six years researching their lives in order to try to understand why they died. His research forms the bulk of the narrative of the story.

Among the five victims was the Marquesa de Montemayor, a rich, unhappy aristocratic woman who has centered her life around her daughter Clara, a young woman from whom she has long been alienated. She was walking on the bridge with her young servant, Pepita, when it collapsed. Another victim is a young man named Esteban who recently lost his twin brother, Manuel, to whom he was devoted. On the brink of suicide, Esteban had just decided to join a sea captain and go on a long voyage. He was on his way to meet the captain when the bridge collapsed. The final two victims are an old man named Uncle Pio and a boy named Don Jaime. Uncle Pio had managed the career of the actress Camila Perichole, who had recently suffered from smallpox, a disease that has adversely affected her personal appearance. Uncle Pio had convinced Camila to allow her son, Don Jaime, to go to Lima with him for an education. They were headed there when the bridge suddenly collapsed.

Early in the novel, the narrator poses the central question raised by the sudden, unexpected deaths of five people: ““Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan. Some say that we shall never know and that to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God.” It is Brother Juniper’s intent to prove there was a divine purpose in the five deaths. It is the narrator’s intent to pose other possible explanations.

It is interesting to note that love is a common theme central to the victims’ lives. Dona Maria (the Marquesa de Montemayor) was reared by parents who were more interested in material things, and so she was starved for love. Her arranged marriage at 26 to an unfeeling man compounded her predicament. When she delivered her baby — Dona Clara — her pent-up need for affection resulted in an obsession for the child that went unrequited. Pepita, the orphan who was sent by the Abbess to serve Dona Maria, ironically becomes the source of Dona Maria’s salvation. The Marquesa accidentally discovers a letter written by Pepita to the Abbess in which the young girl reveals her love for Dona Maria. Realizing that someone cares for her, Dona Maria feels more settled and fulfilled and heads back to Lima with Pepita. While en route, they fall from the bridge.

Esteban is another character who experiences unrequited love. His deep affection for his twin brother, Manuel, is not equally reciprocated. He feels hurt when Manuel falls for the vain actress Camila Perichole. Manuel then dies from an infection, inducing thoughts of suicide into the mind of Esteban. At his low point, a sea captain whom he respects, sent by the Abbess, reaches out to help Esteban and offers to take him on a long sea voyage. Captain Alvarado, who lost his little daughter to death, states, “"We do what we can. We push on, Esteban, as best we can. It isn't for long, you know. Time keeps going by. You'll be surprised at the way time passes." He is on his way to join the captain when the bridge falls.

Uncle Pio has also experienced unrequited love. He managed the career of Camila Perichole, whom he secretly adored. When her vanity led her to an unhappy affair with a nobleman and, later, to a disfiguring bout with smallpox, Uncle Pio was attempting to take her sickly son, Don Jaime, to Lima for an education when they both fell off of the bridge.Their deaths bring despair to Camila Perichole who says, "I have no heart. I fail everybody. They love me and I fail them." Broken, she, too, is nevertheless redeemed by the love of the Abbess.

In the end, the narrator informs us that the community rejects Brother Juniper’s explanation of divine purpose and labels him as a heretic: “I shall spare you Brother Juniper's generalizations. They are always with us. He thought he saw in the same accident the wicked visited by destruction and the good called early to Heaven.”

The community burns Brother Juniper at the stake, along with a copy of his book. We are left, finally, with the words of the Abbess — Madre Maria del Pilar — on the power and meaning of love: “But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” Following the 9/11 tragedy of 2001, it was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair who inspired many by quoting this very passage from Wilder’s novel.

The words of the Abbess steer us away from the simplistic generalizations of Brother Juniper’s calculations of good getting rewarded and evil getting punished through the intercession of divine Providence and toward a deeper appreciation of the enduring and redemptive power of love to give meaning to human experience, even in the face of disaster and tragedy. This is why the words of longtime Hamden, CT, resident Thornton Wilder from 85 years ago especially resonate following the sudden, horrible maiming and loss of life in incidents such as the Boston Marathon bombing.

History of Connecticut's Native American Tribes Explored in New Book, and Misconceptions

Native Americans have long been seen as having been at one with their landscapes, honoring the earth and its creatures and leaving only the soft imprints of their moccasins to mark their passing. This impression verges on the truth, but thanks to the work of dedicated scientists such as archaeologist Dr. Lucianne Lavin, director of research and collections at the Institute of American Indian Studies in Washington, Conn., a much fuller picture of the lives of pre-European contact Native Americans in Connecticut is now available.

Dr. Lavin recently published “Connecticut’s Indigenous Peoples: What Archaeology, History and Oral Traditions Teach Us About Their Communities and Cultures” (Yale University Press/$45), the first book in more than 20 years to explore more than 10,000 years of pre-European history in Connecticut.

The book encompasses many discoveries made in the past two and a half decades, discoveries that add a fuller picture of Indian life and culture, and contains a plethora of maps and line illustrations, as well as photographs of site work and the best artifacts in the state of Connecticut.

For most modern Connecticut residents, the history of the state began in 1614 when Dutch explorer Adriaen Block sailed up Connecticut River. Settlement became brisk with the arrival of the English in the 1630s, but this ignores the more than 10 millennia of Native American occupation before Block’s cruise up what the Indians called the “long tidal river,” the quinnetukut, the river that later gave the Connecticut colony its name.

Dr. Lavin said this “invisible” Connecticut history is echoed today in attitudes toward the survivors of these early native people. “When people think of Indians, they tend to think of Western Indians,” she said as she sat in the spring sunshine that dabbled the woodlands around the Institute of American Indian Studies. “They have been so much less acculturated in the West—a lot of those Indians never even saw a white man before 1900 and didn’t speak English.”

In the East, 400 years have elapsed since first contact—400 years of genocide, prejudice, cultural indoctrination, intermarriage and dispersal of homelands. As a result, Dr. Lavin argues in her book, most Easterners do not recognize the Indians in their midst. “Many people I meet do not know that tribal communities continued to exist in or near their ancestral homelands throughout the last 400 years of Euro-American settlement in Connecticut,” she writes. “Misconceptions about ‘historical’ Native Americans abound. Specifically, they include the erroneous notions that all indigenous people moved west to get away from the Europeans or died out from the effects of warfare and disease … .”

Dr. Lavin’s book, while treating extensively the record of life pieced together from the archaeological record, also puts to rest the idea that native peoples are gone from our midst. The last two chapters of the book deal with the time from European contact to the present.

She finds the strictures imposed by the U.S. government on Indian tribes trying to receive federal recognition of their historic status to be ludicrous. Proving genealogical descent can be difficult when dealing with societies that did not keep written records. In addition, there was much movement among the tribes—especially after they began to be dispersed by warfare with the whites. Native American communities often welcomed non-tribal members into their communities.

“What is really offensive is that the government tells tribes who they can have on their tribal rolls,” the archaeologist said. “The tribes always allowed people to come in since the 16th and 17th centuries. A Jesuit priest who visited a Seneca village wrote that there weren’t many Senecas there because they had invited so many others into the village. There was a lot of movement going on.”

She said that recent studies have indicated that the movement often covered long distances, apparently including trade with tribes from the Midwest during the period before first contact. “Since A.D. 1000, there has been tons of movement east of the Mississippi,” she said. “You had the Hopewell/Adena [A.D. 700-1000] interaction spheres—there were a whole bunch of spheres with the trading of goods and ideas, a lot of population movement. During the Mississipian time, roughly A.D. 100 to first contact, you had huge [mound] complexes of 10,000 to 20,000 people in the Midwest, East and Southeast that some people think were incipient states.”

These cultures apparently sent out traders who had contact with Connecticut tribes. “What they got out of here was soap stone and marine shells,” reported Dr. Lavin. “Marine shells had great spiritual value—the Iroquois used them in political activity—and they have been found in graves.”

She noted that a lot of “exotic” artifacts have been uncovered in the Farmington River Valley, many in burial contexts. “Most have been made out of exotic slates found in Pennsylvania,” she said.

She wondered why these stones would be found in Farmington Valley sites until she looked at a map. “I saw that it is only a short portage from the Farmington to the Housatonic,” she said. “And only a short portage from the Housatonic to the Hoosic, which feeds into the Hudson, which connects to the Mohawk River, which flows right into the Midwest. They were using the waterways for trading.”

She said that many of the archaeological sites identified with Native American occupation in Connecticut have been found along the coast and on interior waterways because these sites are easier to see. Interior sites are often identified through accidental discovery, but that does not mean they do not exist in considerable numbers, she said. During the early periods, it is probable most sites were near swamps or lakes, but later moved near waterways used for transportation.

She said she has discovered spiritual monuments in areas where farming probably has not been conducted. “People always think stone cairns were piled up by farmers,” she said, “but a lot of them were probably monuments. I have seen stone piles shaped like turtles or snakes made with long pieces of stone. I have seen a number of stone piles in swamps where there never would have been farming. They are always on top of ridges overlooking springs or vernal ponds, which were considered sacred places.”

She noted that Monument Mountain in Great Barrington, Mass., was named for a large cairn established by Indians. “We know it was built by Indians because the interpreter for [Stockbridge’s first missionary to the Indians] John Sargent told him that every Indian that passed the monument threw a stone on it and said, ‘I remember you, grandfather.’ Of course, we don’t know who ‘grandfather’ was.”

Indeed, she said, the ‘invisible” past of Connecticut’s Native Americans is more evident than we think. Most of the roads we drive today were once Indian trails. Route 7, for instance, follows the Old Berkshire Path, while Route 44 was an east-west corridor.

Connecticut’s Native Americans have endured a cultural odyssey, but Dr. Lavin’s interest in New World archaeology represents her own educational odyssey. A Connecticut native, she was originally interested in linguistics and envisioned herself as a U.N. interpreter—a focus on modern languages that was spiced up by a curiosity about the past. “When I was an undergraduate at the University of Indiana, I wanted to learn Mesopotamian, to learn cuneiform,” she related.

Her mother, Marie Michrina Neff, to whom the book is dedicated, encouraged Dr. Lavin to try archaeology. “She was very interested in Biblical archaeology,” said Dr. Lavin. “I took a course and loved it. Archaeology is never boring. And it’s not just one course [of studies]—you need to know geology, botany, languages, art … .”

She wanted to go into Biblical archaeology—her mother’s passion—but after graduation she was offered a full fellowship at New York University, where she earned her Master of Arts degree and Ph.D. That fellowship focused on New World studies, however.

Her studies started her on a distinguished career in Northeastern archaeology and anthropology that has included teaching, development of museum exhibits and curatorial work, along with cultural resource management and writing. She is a member of Connecticut’s Native American Heritage Advisory Council, and editor of the journal of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut.

She has taught at a number of Connecticut and New York colleges, and during her term as a research associate at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University she co-directed its current “Connecticut Prehistory” exhibit and wrote the accompanying teacher’s manual. She was awarded the Russell award by the Archaeological Society of Connecticut and elected a Fellow of the New York State Archaeological Association for exemplary archaeology work in their respective states.

Success is sweet in retrospect, but it was not easy at the beginning. “A lot of women didn’t go into archaeology because in the 1960s it was considered to be a man’s discipline,” she said. “At Indiana, when we took labs, girls were not allowed to do experiments. It was assumed that girls went to college just to marry a college man. After I got my master’s I had a married girlfriend who really pushed me to get married.”

She did marry and have children, but that did not stop her career progression. It is a career that shows no sign of slowing for the busy archaeologist. She continues to work on sites in Connecticut—work begins anew this year on a Warren site dating back 5,000 years—and she continues to lecture and write. She is beginning a sequel to her just-published work that will investigate more thoroughly the Indians who lived in the Northwest Corner. She is working with Dr. Laurie Weinstein, a professor at Western Connecticut State University on this research.

For more on the Institute of American Indian Studies

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