Alfresco Gender Reveals

Monday, September 14, 2020


Forest Fire X, by Donald Holden, 2001. Smithsonian American Art Museum, gift of the artist in memory of Jacob Kainen, 2002.

A pyrotechnic device misfired during launch at a gender-reveal party hosted by a family in El Dorado, California, leading to a raging wildfire. The device was intended to blow out blue smoke if the couple was expecting a boy, pink if they were expecting a girl. Neither color was released; instead El Dorado and 7,300 surrounding acres were immersed in a thick black smoke as the fire blazed through the area’s tall wild grass. The gender of the child still remains unknown. The New York Times reported:

Jenna Karvunidis has been credited with creating the gender-reveal party by hosting one for her firstborn in 2008 and sharing it on her blog, High Gloss and Sauce.

Ms. Karvunidis, who lives in California, said in a telephone interview that she had ash on her house from another wildfire that was burning in the Angeles National Forest northeast of Los Angeles. “Could we just stop having these stupid parties and then the problem would solve itself?” she wrote on Twitter. “Thanks.”

1500 BC

Ripe barley, Egypt, c. 1352 bc. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Norbert Schimmel, 1985.

A papyrus from the Carlsberg Collection offers insight into the gender-prediction strategies of the ancients. A team of scientists determined in 1963 that while sex could perhaps not be discerned from the method described, which relied on barley and buckwheat, the ancient Egyptians had indeed created the earliest pregnancy test, as only the urine of a pregnant woman would cause the grain to sprout. The University of Copenhagen, which holds the Carlsberg Collection, published a translation of this papyrus in 1939, noting that a similar pregnancy test was shared in Germany in 1699.

You shall put wheat and barley into purses of cloth, the women shall pass her water on it, every day. 

If both sprout, she will give birth, if the wheat sprouts, she will give birth to a boy. 

If the barley sprouts, she will give birth to a girl, if they do not sprout, she will not give birth at all.