Melungeon DNA Study Reveals Ancestry, Upsets ‘A Whole Lot Of People’


NASHVILLE, Tenn. – For years, varied and sometimes wild claims have been made about the origins of a group of dark-skinned Appalachian residents once known derisively as the Melungeons. Some speculated they were descended from Portuguese explorers, or perhaps from Turkish slaves or Gypsies.

Now a new DNA study in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy attempts to separate truth from oral tradition and wishful thinking. The study found the truth to be somewhat less exotic: Genetic evidence shows that the families historically called Melungeons are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin.  [Continue reading complete article at Huffingtonpost.]

NOTE:  Whether you wish to claim Africa or not, the blood will tell on you every time.

I had to work with a very small crop on this one. I dodged and burned the image to my liking, then saved for web. I shot the image in JPEG (probably to see the camera’s auto exposure for the scene), but ended up liking this one out of the bunch.

I’ve also been planning and accepting model submission for conceptual composites I have in mind. I’ve booked a few and can’t wait to shoot!

The Mighty Oak

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In the early 1900’s a pathogen called Cryphonectria Parasitica, or Chestnut Blight, caused the mass extinction of the American Chestnut tree.  The American Chestnut was, until that time, the dominant canopy tree as well as the primary producer of hard mast throughout all of Appalachia.  It’s extinction created food shortages of up to 27% in some areas, and habitat loss of up to 25%, which in turn had a major impacts on wildlife populations.

In the absence of the American Chestnut, Oak and Hickory trees have, over time, brought hard mast production back into equilibrium - while the Oak has risen to become the dominant canopy species.  Even though the Oaks were up to the task, this process was painfully slow, and required many decades of natural regeneration.

We now have a newer pathogen, Phytophthora Ramorum, or Sudden Oak Death, which when taken together with deforestation and rampant parcelization, threatens a repeat performance of the American Chestnut extinction, this time with Oaks.  I am not stating that an advent so destructive or definitive as Chestnut Blight is immanent, only that it is possible.

With the exception of Shortleaf and Loblolly Pine, due to the 1970’s invasion of the Southern Pine Beatle, Oak is observably the most rapidly declining species in the Appalachian region.  Over half of all Oak species are dwindling from our eastern forests.  Oaks are critical to the eastern upland-hardwood ecosystem; they are the canopy species, and the entire forest lives under them.  They also produce a very substantial portion of diet for forest wildlife.  In short, they are wearing the old shoes of the American Chestnuts before them.

We must therefore ask ourselves, “In the absence of Oak; What?”  I find that this is a rather problematic question.  While I have seen some trees aspire to the heights of the Oaks, like the Silver Maples and Yellow Poplars, no doubt excellent canopy trees, they yield no hard mast.  And while I have seen other trees litter the forest floor with edibles, Hickories and Walnuts, these are niche mid-story trees and can not acquire canopy mass.  A Sweetgum and a Sycamore wait apprehensively in the shadows.  Again and again and many etceteras always bring me affirmation of the opinion I began with; Oaks are the sentinels of the east, they can not be replaced.

The good news is that this has been a slow trend.  Environmentalists, foresters and academics have been tracking forest populations and we still have plenty of Oaks.  This time, time is on our side, and we find ourselves with the opportunity to exercise Prevention.  We could do what we always to do with a non-doom scenario and ignore it until it grows into crisis proportions; or we could take small steps now, adhere to the standard prescription of “cut less, plant more”, and enjoy our eastern forests for years to come.

And so in closing I will ask my Appalachian neighbors, that when you consider planting a tree, or trees, on your property, please also consider The Mighty Oak.