How cold was Amsterdam? Egypt? What means "decimate?"

Leo A. Martin
Mon, 09 Jan 2006 20:52:07 PST
Hello Albert,

> There is evidence in ancient sources that the classic
> world was colder

Not just ancient. How many of you have seen reproductions (or originals if
you're lucky) of Dutch masters' paintings from the 1600s of people ice
skating on the (then-new) canals of Amsterdam? Perhaps somebody on this
list from the Low Countries can tell us when these canals last froze.

> how could they produce beer in Egypt?,

You probably mean in Pharaonic times -

Well, Egypt is a very large country north to south. From what I read,
Cairo now seems to have a climate very much like Phoenix, where I live. It
is easily cool enough here to brew beer during the winter. Inside a
building with thick mud walls, the beer-brewing season here probably would
extend from October to April or longer.

My brother went to university in Tucson (110 miles / 185km southeast of
Phoenix, and 1000 feet / 300m higher in elevation) and he put his brewing
carboy outside in the winter. That beer was really good - but, then, what
beer isn't?

> Of course there were no potatoes in that period.

What I think Alberto is referring to...

Europe has not many native sources of starch for food. The native grains
(for example, spelt and barley) have low yields per hectare and are
difficult to harvest and process. Maize / corn from the New World doesn't
or didn't grow well in cold Europe, and wasn't there until after Columbus.

The Andean region has many interesting tuberous plants, grown for food by
the native peoples. The potato came from the Quechua-speaking empire
centrered in what is now Peru. It is a high-altitude Andean native,
accustomed to short cold summers. It grows easily, is easy to harvest, and
easy to process into a form that stores for a long time.

The potato is very productive in calories per acre compared to what was in
Europe at the time. I have read that some sociologists think the expansion
of the population in Europe in the 1500s-1600s was due to the introduction
of the potato. Many more people could be fed from the same land compared
to what was possible with spelt. When a potato disease destroyed the crop
in Ireland, there was mass starvation, as well as a mass migration of
Irish to the United States in the mid-1800s.

> After this hot dry 2005 I am most alarmed at the performance of our
> irids
> in cultivation as mentioned in my previous one. No doubt wild plants,
> subject to more severe stress, must have responded likewise.

Our deserts here in the Southwest of the USA have had very irregular
rainfall for at least many thousands of years. This is known from studying
rings in old logs and trees. Last winter we had almost the largest
rainfall on record. Wildflowers bloomed that are almost never seen, and it
was the best display in living memory.

This winter - we have had no rain of significance since late summer,
August. And no signs of rain on the way. Wildflowers this winter and
spring are doubtful.

We don't have any irids here, but we have Dichelostemma pulchellum. It
only blooms in the spring after a winter of very good rains, which means
about once every 10-15 years. I wish you could have seen it last March!

Another person wrote

> One theory is that of the 400,000 man
> army Napoleon used to invade Russia, barely 1% survived
> to return to France having been decimated by an unusually
> cold period of weather

"Decimated" has become one of the most misused words in English. It is
from Latin and means "one in ten killed." A poorly-performing company in
the Roman army might have been decimated by commanders as punishment.

1% survived means 99 in 100 died. This is a lot worse than 1 in 10.

The louse-spread diseases spread much more easily when weather is very
cold and people huddle together to keep warm. So, the cold weather did

The cold weather and snow made normal movement impossible. Everything took
ten or twenty times longer than expected. Military campaigns depend on the
supply line. Old Man Winter cut the supply line of the French army and
pinned it down. The Russians, accustomed to cold and snow, harried the
French endlessly. The lice just finished the job.

Old Man Winter saved Moscow and Leningrad from Hitler, as well.

Leo Martin
Phoenix Arizona USA

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