June 4, 2013 11:57 am
French winemakers first learned the trade from the Etruscans, an ancient Italian civilization, kicking off domestic production around 525 B.C., according to new research by a team of scientists lead by Patrick McGovern. Archaeologists have long thought that the Etruscans brought wine and winemaking to southern France. But in their new study, McGovern and his team firmed up that assumption. They tested the residue found at the bottom of ancient Etruscan amphoras collected from a site in southern France. At the time, amphoras were used as shipping containers, carrying wine and olive oil and other products around the Mediterranean.
Chemical analyses of ancient organic compounds absorbed into the pottery fabrics of imported Etruscan amphoras (ca. 500–475 B.C.) and into a limestone pressing platform (ca. 425–400 B.C.) at the ancient coastal port site of Lattara in southern France provide the earliest biomolecular archaeological evidence for grape wine and viniculture from this country, which is crucial to the later history of wine in Europe and the rest of the world.
But the history of winemaking stretches back much, much further. The civilizations of the ancient Near East had been producing wine since at least as early as the Neolithic era, from around 10,000 to 2,000 B.C. In archaeology, understanding when and how ancient cultures met and collaborated is a difficult challenge. But the flow of wine, say the scientists in their study, can be used to track these connections.
The wine trade was one of the principal incentives for the Canaanites and Phoenicians, followed by the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans, to expand their inﬂuence in the Mediterranean Sea. Where wine went, so other cultural elements eventually followed. Technologies of all kinds and new social and religious customs took hold in regions where another fermented beverage made from different natural products had long held sway.
According to the authors, the rise of wine making in southern France suggests not just trade of goods between the ancient Celtic French and the Etruscans, but the flow of ideas and technology.
Similarly to the transfer of winemaking by the Canaanites to the Egyptian Nile Delta millennia earlier, the native Celts at Lattara would have needed the expertise and knowledge of the Etruscans to plant their own vineyards and begin making wine.
Though the French were latecomers to the winemaking industry they’ve quickly made up for lost time. France is now the world’s largest producer of wine, account for 16% of world production.
If you wanted a taste of the old world, say the authors in their study, the closest modern approximation of the ancient wines would be a nice Greek retsina—a wine that bears the taste of pine resin, a material that was used to seal the amphoras during shipping.
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December 18, 2012 12:48 pm
In the next two weeks the Mississippi River could be shut down—no boats, no shipments—unless the weather takes a dramatic turn or a controversial plan to flood the traditionally-mighty river from an upstream tributary is carried out. The Guardian:
The shipping industry in St Louis wants the White House to order the release of more water from the Missouri river, which flows into the Mississippi, to keep waters high enough for the long barges to float down the river to New Orleans.
As early as July, forecasters had been warning of the impending gridlock, with some periodic closures kicking off in August. More water in the Mississippi would keep the river levels high enough for shipments to continue to flow, but the decision would have dramatic upstream consequences.
Sending out more water from the Missouri would doom states upstream, such as Montana, Nebraska, and South Dakota, which depend on water from the Missouri and are also caught in the drought.
The dilemma, of shorting those along the Missouri River or letting shipping traffic on one of America’s most important rivers run dry, comes as a consequence of the dramatic drought that has gripped much of the Mississippi River watershed since the summer. The land that feeds the Mississippi River stretches across the vast majority of the central US—from the Rockies to the Appalachians—aligning remarkably well with the regions that have been plagued by drought.
The Coast Guard says that they will be able to keep traffic flowing, says CBS News. But, they seem to be fighting an uphill battle. “This time last year,” says the Guardian, “the Mississippi around St. Louis was 20ft deeper because of heavy rain.”
November 26, 2012 1:31 pm
For more than 130 years, thanks to the pioneering explorations of A. E. Nordenskiöld, people have known the daunting Northeast Passage, an Arctic shipping route that cuts atop the northern coasts of Europe and Asia, was surmountable. Like the Northwest Passage, first navigated by Roald Amundsen in a three-year voyage that ended in 1905, the Northeast Passage was seen as a potentially lucrative, but incredibly dangerous, shortcut for sailing around the world.
For decades now, Russian icebreakers have been using their reinforced hulls to plowing a path through the icy seas. And, starting in 1997, commercials ships began to use the Passage as well. These trips, however, have largely been during the later summer or early fall, when sea ice is at its lowest.
As the BBC reports, a natural gas tanker is presently on its way through the Northeast Passage—a first for a ship of its type and a risky maneuver given the time of year. Given this year’s record Arctic sea ice melt, though, that risk is lessened slightly: Climate change is leading to less summer ice, and the ice that does form is weaker than it traditionally would have been.
Mr Lauritzen says that a key factor in the decision to use the northern route was the recent scientific record on melting in the Arctic.
“We have studied lots of observation data – there is an observable trend that the ice conditions are becoming more and more favourable for transiting this route. You are able to reach a highly profitable market by saving 40% of the distance, that’s 40% less fuel used as well.”
The natural gas tanker, known as the Ob River, is on its way to Japan, where a curtailing of nuclear energy production following the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant saw the country turn to an increased reliance on natural gas. Philip Bump for Grist:
With the natural gas boom created by fracking, the market has shifted to the east — particularly Japan, which needs energy sources in lieu of its nuclear plants. Under traditional conditions, that would have required a route around Europe, through Mediterranean and the Suez Canal, and around the southern expanse of Asia. Now, however, it can slip above Russia and down to Japan in 20 fewer days.
The increase in Arctic shipping through the Northeast Passage joins a similar trend in the North American Arctic, where tourists have been flocking to the now largely ice-free Northwest Passage.
The Ob River has already navigated the Northeast Passage once before, traveling west heading from South Korea on a research mission. The present voyage to Japan, currently underway, will be the ship’s first run carrying a load of fuel.
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August 21, 2012 9:13 am
We see them at the back of grocery stores, burn them at bonfires and pluck gallon tubs of Mayonaise off them at Costco. But pallets, the unassuming collection of wooden slats, are perhaps the most important thing in our global economy.
First, there are a lot of them. Billions. About 80 percent of the goods in the United States are carried on them. We use about 46 percent of our hard wood production to make pallets to carry things around.
But they’re not just a piece of wood we carry things around on, either. They effect the way we design our products. Slate explains:
Companies like Ikea have literally designed products around pallets: Its “Bang” mug, notes Colin White in his book Strategic Management, has had three redesigns, each done not for aesthetics but to ensure that more mugs would fit on a pallet (not to mention in a customer’s cupboard). After the changes, it was possible to fit 2,204 mugs on a pallet, rather than the original 864, which created a 60 percent reduction in shipping costs. There is a whole science of “pallet cube optimization,” a kind of Tetris for packaging; and an associated engineering, filled with analyses of “pallet overhang” (stacking cartons so they hang over the edge of the pallet, resulting in losses of carton strength) and efforts to reduce “pallet gaps” (too much spacing between deckboards). The “pallet loading problem,”—or the question of how to fit the most boxes onto a single pallet—is a common operations research thought exercise.
Pallets changed the speed at which our shipping economy could move, too. In 1931, it took three days to unload a boxcar carrying 13,000 cases of canned goods without pallets. With pallets, the same unloading took four hours. With the 1937 invention of the gas-powered fork lift, the pallet was set to change our global economy for good.
Pallet Enterprise, the “leading pallet and sawmill magazine in American” (yes, this exists) explains how World War II solidified the pallets place in shipping:
The improved efficiency that resulted from palletized cargo handling in World War II is not particularly surprising to anyone in the pallet or material handling industries today. At the time, however, the use of pallets and forklift trucks was extremely innovative. “The use of the forklift trucks and pallets was the most significant and revolutionary storage development of the war,” observed Dr. Erna Risch in a 1953 history of the Quartermaster Corps. “The forklift truck represented the culmination of efforts extending over half a century to combine horizontal and vertical motion in one materials-handling vehicle.”
When the war ended, the United States military left the Austrailian government with about 60,000 pallets. The country is now home to a worldwide pallet powerhouse, which controls 90 percent of the “pooled” pallets in the United States. Pooled pallets are simply rented pallets – they go out, deliver things, and then return to the company. The alternate, one-way pallets, are the ones you see scrapped outside of grocery stores. They, like their name implies, only go one way.
And today, like any industry, there are glitches, preferences, idiosynchracies. If you see a blue pallet, that’s a CHEP pallet, the company spawned from the leftovers in Australia. A red pallet is its competitor, PECO. Costco recently switched to “block” pallets, surprising the industry. Pallet sizes are variable – in the United States they’re generally 48 inches by 40 inches while in Europe they’re 1,000 millimeters by 1,200 millimeters. Japan has a different size. The International Organization for Standardization recognizes six different pallet sizes. The math gets messy, quickly.
But even if it is a rag-tag system of measurement, the pallet is probably far more important than you ever realized. Slate sums up:
The pallet is one of those things that, once you start to look for it, you see everywhere: Clustered in stacks near freight depots and distribution centers (where they are targets for theft), holding pyramids of Coke in an “endcap display” at your local big-box retailer, providing gritty atmosphere in movies, forming the dramatic stage-setting for wartime boondoggles (news accounts of the Iraqi scandal seemed obsessed with the fact the money was delivered on pallets, as if to underscore the sheer mass of the currency), being broken up for a beach bonfire somewhere, even repurposed into innovative modern architecture. Trebilcock likens the industry to the slogan once used by the company BASF: “At BASF, we don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better.” At parties he’ll tell people who ask what he does: “Without a pallet, most of what you and I eat or wear or sit on or whatnot would not have gotten to us as easily or inexpensively as it got to us.”
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