Readers Respond to the November/December 2022 Issue

Your feedback on document detectives, the date, witches and more

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This article is a selection from the January/February 2023 issue of Smithsonian magazine

Document Detectives

“Invisible Evidence” (November/December 2022) is a fascinating piece about how mass spectrometry of proteins found on old documents might provide evidence of the medical condition of the author. But how can one sample from one document be relied on to reach any definitive conclusion? We could reasonably expect that powerful figures often depended on servants, who presumably would also assist with documents. How were these documents handled after being written? Can anyone really know? Evidence, yes. Diagnosis, only perhaps. —Larry W. Wolf | Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

“Invisible Evidence” brought to my mind stamps, which used to be licked before being stuck on envelopes. Many collections contain the stamps used for sending important letters starting around the 1840s. The sealed undersides of these stamps would yield not only protected proteins but probably also DNA. —Gene Coan | Vero Beach, Florida

Dream Date

I truly enjoyed Matti Friedman’s article “Consider the Date” (November/December 2022). My partner and I were fortunate to visit the United Arab Emirates last year during Ramadan, and we saw and ate so many different types of dates. This piece wound together historical beginnings, religious connections and environmental issues (from irrigation to the pesky red palm weevil) highlighting the illustrious date. —Fred Posont | Grand Rapids, Michigan

This article opened my eyes to delicious dates and their interesting history. They deserve better placement in grocery stores and on plates everywhere. —A. Gordon | Greenwich, Connecticut

Not Just Salem

“They Weren’t Witches” (November/December 2022) and the accompanying “American Tragedy” reminded me of a more modern tragedy: the day care hysteria of the 1980s. Innocent people were not burned at the stake or hanged, but they lost their jobs, were tried and went to prison because of a combination of bad science, poor police work and prosecutors with no common sense, all based on the rather strange idea that children never lie. Any parent knows better. —Marvin Stasak | Southfield, Michigan

Perfect Instrument

As an aficionado both of string music and of photography, I’d like to offer my heartiest compliments to photographer Claire Rosen for the gorgeous and wonderfully evocative still life with which “The Ultimate Craftsman” (November/December 2022) begins. Gorgeous! —Edward Shaw | Clawson, Michigan