From Bukhara to Texas – Dr. CC Young and His Karakul Sheep

The Karakul is one, if not the, oldest breed of domesticated sheep that originated in Central Asia and is known for its ability to withstand harsh environments. Karakul Market, BukharaWhile the fur pelts of the Karakul were prized, they were also used as a source for milk, meat, tallow and wool. The breed was named for the village, Karakul, which lies in the valley of the Amu Darja River in the former emirate of Bukhara, West Turkestan (now Uzbekistan). This region is one of high altitude with scant desert vegetation and a limited water supply causing the sheep to adapt to the harsh environment.

Dr CC Young and Karakul LambsWanting to introduce this hearty breed of sheep known for the quality of its fur, Dr. CC Young, a Russian physician who immigrated to Texas in the United States, imported the first Karakul rams and ewes into the United States in 1908. From accounts, it was quite an endeavour! After travelling to Russia armed with letters of introduction from President Theodore Roosevelt to prominent Russian businessmen, Young returned to New York City with several Karakul rams and ewes of which the Secretary of Agriculture ordered  to be returned to Russia or slaughtered; however, after being in quarantine, they were shipped to his father’s ranch Harem to Texasin Texas. Then, in 1912, Dr. Young ‘joined the International Sheep Congress in Moscow, Russia and purchased several Karakul rams and ewes from various exhibitors; these sheep arrived in Baltimore, Maryland in 1913, but he had to sell many of them to recoup his finances. He started the Young Karakul Fur Sheep Company with some men in Prince Edward Island, Canada and tried to re-purchase the sheep and move them to the island. Since there was so much interest in this breed of sheep, the company sent Dr. Young to Bukhara to secure a larger flock. He traversed the desert, the southern and central plateaus of Turkestan (Uzbekistan) and along the Amu-Daria River. With his connections to various Russian officials, Dr. Young was able to select the finest specimens and so, a flock of 21 sheep (15 rams and 6 ewes) were shipped to the United States quarantine station in Beltsville, Maryland, where 5 of the rams died and the rest of the flock was shipped to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

Dr CC Young in Uzbek dressDr. CC Young’s article, “Origin of the Karakul Sheep” in the Journal of Heredity, American Genetic Association is a fascinating first-hand account of his adventures in Central Asia and in his description of the breed.

Letters in the Limelight: ‘The Wizard of Sussex’ and the Piltdown Man

Coll. Dawson signatureCataloguing the correspondence of zoologist/animal breeder James Cossar Ewart (1851-1933), I have been intrigued by the various ‘life stories’ which emerge from the letters. Periodically I will be including some highlights in a series of posts entitled ‘letters in the limelight’ .

As a prominent figure in the field of zoology, Ewart’s professional connections frequently interlinked with those involved with disciplines such as archaeology and palaeontology. Ewart was often able to use these connections to benefit his own research into the prehistoric origins of domestic animals. For example, one of his most well-known pieces of research was ‘On the Skulls of Horses from the Roman Fort at Newstead, near Melrose, with Observations on the Origin of Domestic Horses’ (Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 45: 555-587, 1907). But one of his Ewart’s correspondents from the archaeological world proved to be more notorious than the rest…

In September 1915, Ewart received a letter (ref: GB 237 Coll-14/9/21/16) from amateur palaeontologist and antiquarian Charles Dawson (1864-1916) concerning the case of a horse with some unusual horn-like protuberances on its skull. Dawson goes on to say that he will shortly be visiting Ewart in Edinburgh and will bring with him ‘some new pieces of Eoanthropus skull from near Piltdown, in which you might be interested.’ Just how interested Ewart was in these skull fragments we will never know, but Charles Dawson was certain to hold the interest of the scientific world in a firm grasp for some time to come.

Unlike his brothers, Dawson did not attend university but followed his father into the legal profession and became a solicitor. However, he held a lifelong passion for fossil-hunting and archaeology, making some uncannily fortunate finds (a Roman statuette made uniquely of cast iron, the teeth of a previously unknown species of mammal, a unique form of an ancient timber boat). At the age of only 21 he was made a Fellow of the Geological Society. However despite these successes, he complained that he was always ‘waiting for the big ‘find’ which never seems to come along’.

Ever since the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859, there had been an intense rush to find any ancient remains which would form ‘the missing link’ between apes and humans. Early human remains had been found elsewhere in Europe (including Cro-Magnon man in France), but the British Isles apparently  lacked any evidence. However, this changed when in December 1912 it was announced at a meeting of the Geological Society that skull and jawbone fragments had been discovered by Charles Dawson (later accompanied by palaeontologist Arthur Smith Woodward), in Pleistocene gravel beds in Piltdown, Sussex, which seemed to suggest an early human with a large brain, ape-like jaw but human teeth. The fragments Dawson refers to in his letter to Ewart were those of a molar tooth and skull pieces which seemed to match those of the Piltdown Man (Eoanthropus dawsoni or ‘Dawson’s Dawn Man’) which were unearthed at a nearby site in 1915. Dubbed ‘the Wizard of Sussex’, Dawson finally found the public acclaim he craved, although he did not live to gain a knighthood or a prestigious Royal Society Fellowship. However, he also died without seeing his Piltdown discovery exposed as a fraud: this did not happen until 1953.

Improved technology for dating fossils from the 1940s meant that scientists in the Natural History Museum began to examine the Piltdown remains in detail. It was then they made various alarming discoveries: the skull and jaw fragments actually came from two different species, a human and an ape (probably an orang-utan); the teeth had been deliberately filed down to make them look human; and the remains had been artificially stained to match the local gravels.

Several theories have emerged which either inculcate Dawson as the sole perpetrator of the fraud or name various other individuals who could have been involved (including Arthur Conan Doyle). However, the general consensus casts Dawson as the prime or only suspect. But all of this was still to come when Dawson wrote to Ewart back in September 1915 – yet another example of how James Cossar Ewart’s correspondence collection charts its way through an eventful and occasionally turbulent period in scientific discovery.

You can read more about the Piltdown hoax on the Natural History Museum’s site here:


Animals and Disease

Another theme within the Roslin Glass Slides Collection is physical manifestations of disease and abnormalities in animals from genetic diseases to viral and bacterial infections to insect borne illnesses. Some of the most prevalent in the images are scrapie and scab with some images of Spirillosis in a horse, a double headed calf and cattle meat infected with tuberculosis. Additionally, there are images of animal hospitals and disease prevention methods. This was certainly a vital area of research and interest to these scientists since understanding the genetic aspects of the various diseases could lead to improved treatments and prevention methods to ensure the animals survival and to benefit the economic impact in animal breeding.

Sheep with ScrapieScrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease that affects the nervous systems of sheep and goats. It is one of several transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), which are related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy.


Sheep with ScabSheep scab is a highly contagious skin disease caused by a mite called Psoroptes ovis causing scaly lesions to develop on the woolly parts of a sheep’s body making them itch resulting in them rubbing or biting themselves causing wool loss.


Spirilosis in HorseSpirillosis is a disease caused by the presence of spirilla in the blood or tissues. Spirilla is a ‘genus of large (1.4–1.7 mcm in diameter), rigid, helical, gram-negative bacteria (family Spirillaceae) that are motile by means of bipolar fascicles of flagella. These freshwater organisms are obligately microaerophilic and chemoorganotrophic, possessing a strictly respiratory metabolism; they neither oxidize nor ferment carbohydrates. ‘

Double Headed Cheviot LambThe double-headed Cheviot lamb suffered from Diprosopus or Cranialfacial duplication which is a rare congenital disorder whereby parts (accessories) or all of the face is duplicated on the head.


Tuberculous MeatTuberculosis is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis which infects the lungs and occasionally other parts of the body.



There are also images of disease prevention methods though mostly of cattle dipping to prevent ticks and one of an animal hospital in India.

India Animal HospitalCattle Dipping Texas with President Taft




While I’ve catalogued many scientific off-prints and glass slides on animals and disease in the Roslin Collection which are available for you to see if you make an appointment to see the material, I’d also recommend having a look at the DEFRA website for more information.

A New Arrival

The ‘Towards Dolly’ team are rather excited about a recent acquisition by Edinburgh University Library Special Collections: a collection of original artwork by acclaimed artist and designer Yolanda Sonnabend (1935-) created to illustrate developmental biologist Conrad Hal Waddington’s book Tools for Thought (London, 1977). The collection consists of around 250 watercolours, black inkwork drawings, tracings, collages and material sourced for collage-work. Although not officially part of the ‘Towards Dolly’ project, Sonnabend’s artwork and papers relating to her collaboration with Waddington forms a timely and fascinating complement to the Waddington papers which have been catalogued as part of the project.

As we have seen from earlier posts on this blog, Waddington (Director of the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh from 1947 until his death in 1975) held a lifelong interest in art, particularly in how it can be used to illuminate and represent scientific concepts. This interest culminated in his 1969 book Behind Appearance, a comparative study of science and painting in the twentieth century. Tools for Thought: How to understand and apply the latest scientific techniques of problem solving was Waddington’s last completed work (published posthumously) and presented approaches such as systems and catastrophe theory, cybernetics and futures research as tools for facing the world’s economic, social and ecological problems. Yolanda Sonnabend’s boldly confident illustrations are a perfect partner to Waddington’s imaginative cross-disciplinary thinking. Here is a slideshow showing a few examples from the collection:

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Born in Rhodesia, Sonnabend studied painting and stage design at the Slade School of Fine Arts. As well as being an accomplished portraitist, she is probably best known for her work as a designer for theatre and ballet, having worked for the Royal Opera House, the Royal Ballet, Sadler’s Wells and the Stuttgart Ballet company. We are delighted to have this unique collection of her artwork at Edinburgh University Library Special Collections.

You can see more examples of Sonnabend’s work here on the BBC’s website:

All images appear here with kind permission from Yolanda Sonnabend.

Dining ‘Al Fresco’ in the Early 20th Century

In anticipation of the (hopefully) approaching warm weather, I’ve found a selection of images of people dining al fresco in Uruguay, Argentina and British Columbia, Canada in the early 20th century.

Two of the images are from Fray Bentos, Uruguay – one showing a group of men standing around a traditional South American barbeque pit/campfire roasting three animals on spits and the other shows the same men, joined by women, sitting around a picnic table. Unfortunately, no one is identified in either image; however, one of the group members may be Oldfield Thomas, a zoologist who travelled to South America around the late 19th / early 20th century. If anyone can identify the people in the group, it would be greatly appreciated!


Cooking on an Asado for lunch near Fray Bentos, Uruguay

Cooking on an Asado for lunch near Fray Bentos, Uruguay

Camp lunch near Fray Bentos, Uruguay

Camp lunch near Fray Bentos, Uruguay







In contrast, the next two images show groups of gauchos, sitting around their camp fires on the Argentinian plains outside of Buenos Aires.


Shearers Midday Meal, Cabana Foriane, Argentina. Photograph of a group of sheep shearers sitting and standing around a cook fire and pot for their midday meal on the plains in the early 20th century.

Shearers Midday Meal, Cabana Foriane, Argentina. Photograph of a group of sheep shearers sitting and standing around a cook fire and pot for their midday meal on the plains in the early 20th century.

Photograph of a group of men, gauchos, eating breakfast in their camp on the plains in Argentina in the early 20th century.

Photograph of a group of men, gauchos, eating breakfast in their camp on the plains in Argentina in the early 20th century.

Photograph of a group of men and a woman standing around a camp fire in camp in British Columbia, Canada in the early 20th century. One of the men may be Professor Robert Wallace, another man may be Alex Easton and the woman may be Isabel Easton.

Photograph of a group of men and a woman standing around a camp fire in camp in British Columbia, Canada in the early 20th century. One of the men may be Professor Robert Wallace, another man may be Alex Easton and the woman may be Isabel Easton.









Finally, there is an image of Professor Robert Wallace, who taught rural agriculture and natural history at the University of Edinburgh in the early 20th century, next to a camp fire in British Columbia, Canada.

These images illustrate a fascinating aspect of social history at the turn of the 20th century – that scientists on expeditions around the world documented what and how they ate when ‘out in the field’ provides an interesting insight.