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Category Archives: Archaeology

The Mammoths of Niederwenigen

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Mammoth

Image Credit:  Mammutmuseum Niederwenigen

So far this past week, we’ve crammed more activities into one week that we’d previously done all year.  There is a lot of beautiful scenery here in Switzerland, and though we spend time in the mountains, we also like museums of all shapes and sizes.  Our busy holiday started a week ago when my husband took a few weeks off from work, and our first stop was just over the hill range in the next valley, known as Furttal:  We had a private tour (given by an old family friend) through the local mammoth museum; it is one of the few in Europe.  Roughly 185,000 years ago, glaciers and glacial lakes came and went, and the intermittent stages formed lush valleys filled with wild grasses & forests – the perfect place for mammoths to forage.  Fortunately for us, but unfortunately for the mammoths, the ground could sometimes become swampy, trapping victims, and thus preserving their remains intact.  Today, any construction site in the valley is likely to find fossils, and the archaeologists are called in on a regular basis – whether by construction crews or by farmers whose ploughing churns up artefacts (from prehistoric to Roman).

To read more details about the findings, click on the image above for a scientific report (PDF), or on the link above for the museum information.  And just as a side note:  Mammoth teeth are huge, and were formed with ridges that ground their food between the top and bottom teeth (see image below, showing a fragment in comparison to a whole tooth).

Mammoth Tooth - Plymouth-edu

Image Credit: www.plymouth.edu

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The Mystery of the Caucasian Dolmens

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Some time ago I read an interesting article about thousands of megalithic structures that have been found spread throughout the massive area of the Western Caucasus in Southern Russia.  Astoundingly similar though spread over hundreds of thousands of acres, there are currently over three thousand found and counting.  Dolmens are found throughout Europe through Asia, in India, Korea, Spain and Ireland, as well as the Middle East and Africa.  The Russian portal tombs are unique in that they are nearly all identical, reflect highly skilled stone masonry, and are spread out over a much farther region than one would think possible, given the sparse population of the region.  Each Caucasus Dolmen  weighs roughly 15 to 30 tons, yet they have not found a single trace of a stone quarry anywhere in the Western Caucasus, nor have they found any evidence of the stones having been dragged to the sites.  Personally, I’m a bit tempted to think of the Caucasian Dolmens as a type of OOPArt.  To read the fascinating article, please click on the photo.

The Varangian Guards

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Source:  Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

An elite unit of the Byzantine army from the 10th to 14th centuries, the Varangian guard was mostly comprised of Viking and Anglo-Saxon mercenaries whose job was to protect the Byzantine emperors as their personal bodyguards, and they were renowned for their loyalty, ferocity and honour; one of the greatest offences one could give a Viking or Varangian was to either question their honour or their courage – it usually ended in bloodshed.  So many Swedish left for this elite position that there was a law passed that no one could inherit land in Sweden while “in Greece” (the Swedish term for the Byzantine region).  These guards were prized, and hired not only in Byzantine, but also in London and in east Slavic tribes referred to as the Kievan Rus [Russia got its name from the Arabic term for the Vikings, perhaps related to the Old Norse word of Roþrslandi, “the land of rowing,” in turn related to Old Norse roðr “steering oar,” from which we get such words as “rudder” and “row”.]

My personal connection with this information is a story from the Skylitzes Chronicle:  In 1038 the Varangian were wintering in the Thracesian theme when one of them tried to rape a countrywoman; in the struggle she managed to take his sword, and killed him.  But instead of taking revenge, his comrades praised her and rewarded her with his possessions; they then exposed his body without burial as if he had committed suicide (an act of cowardice, and the highest of insults).  This story fit perfectly within a novel that I’m just finishing, and preparing for publication this month, called “The Cardinal“, an epic fantasy set in around A.D. 800 Scotland and Norway, and modern Scotland.  More news of that will be following!  In this particular case, the woman in the chronicle becomes the woman in my own tale, and she tells this very account as she tells of her life.  It’s these kinds of tales that I come across in research that add rich details of history to my characters!

The Bloody Battle of Towton

Towton Battle Skull

A Towton Battle victim, with multiple head wounds. Credit: Bradford University

Towton BattleImagine a battle so vicious that opposing sides agreed to a time-out to drag bodies out of the way to better facilitate killing each other.  Not just killing, but slaughtering, butchering; some of the skeletons found at the battlefield of Towton, England, have as many as 20 injuries to the skulls.  Some skulls have been sliced in half, or pierced with a square spearhead, or both; noses chopped off, eyes gouged out, ears removed.  The battle occurred on 29 March 1461, and within 12 hours, from dawn to dusk, 28,000 men would lose their lives in brutal deaths, hacked to death and beyond.  That’s an average of 2,333 an hour.  The figure of 28,000 is disputed, however; though it appeared in letters from Edward VI and the Bishop of Salisbury, other contemporary sources gave the figures ranging between 30,000 to 38,000, while the 16th century chronicler Edward Hall gave the exact figure of 36,776.  Why was it so vicious?  It was a decisive battle in the War of the Roses (1455–1487), between the opposing forces of the Lancastrians and the Yorkists; it was north against south; the Lancastrians were the strong arm of King Henry VI, and the Yorkists, that of 18-year-old Edward IV, who would go on to win the battle and claim the English throne.  At the time of the battle, the War of Roses had been going on for six years, and nerves were raw – they just wanted it to end.  Little did they know that it would continue for another 26 years… in other words, two generations (reckoning in shorter life spans) of young men would rise and fall in the War of Roses, and the Battle of Towton was one of the largest, if not the largest, battle fought on English soil.

Sources:  BBC; Wikipedia; University of York.

The Scilly Isles

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Scilly IslesIn my article on the Uffington White Horse, I mentioned the Scilly Isles, situated south-west of Cornwall (roughly 2 hours 45 minutes by boat, or serviced by 3 airports on the mainland, ranging from a 15-minute hop to an hour’s flight).  The island group includes 5 inhabited islands and countless uninhabited islands, ranging in size from dangerous hidden tidal “sharks” waiting to sink ships, to more substantial islands that are largely inhabited by seals and sea birds.

Garrison Walk, St. Mary's

Garrison Walk, St. Mary’s

Perhaps from the 1866 Gilmore Wreck.  Tresco Abbey Gardens.

Perhaps from the 1866 Gilmore wreck. Tresco Abbey Gardens.

Not only are the islands beautiful, but they’re packed with history both onshore and in the waters surrounding the isles:  To date there have been over 900 shipwrecks documented around the archipelago; every tide washes debris from shipwrecks onto the beaches – porcelain, glass, clay pipe debris, and occasionally larger chunks; seasonal changes in the currents shift the seascape, unearthing “new” wrecks to be discovered.  Most of the shipwrecks documented so far occurred between 1700 and 1900; some of their mastheads are displayed in the Tresco (Island) Abbey Gardens (where this photo was taken).

On the main island, St. Mary’s, there is what is called the “Garrison Walk” – a hiking trail around and through the star-shaped garrison (called the “star castle”), complete with cannons in some of the batteries.  It dates from at least 1655, and was used to harass enemy ships attempting to navigate the treacherous waters between Scilly Isles and the mainland of England, and was a strategic site up through the Second World War.

Woolpack Battery, Star Castle

Woolpack Battery, Star Castle

Halangy Down Ancient Village

Halangy Down Ancient Village

Another point of interest on St. Mary’s is the Halangay Down Ancient Village:  Occupied from around 300 BC to AD 700, much of the stones from the buildings were repurposed in the 19th century to build Hugh Town, the main (only) town on St. Mary’s.  Archaeologists have discovered countless ancient burial sites on the islands; it has been speculated that perhaps people brought their dead to the islands for burial from the mainland, there have been so many found.  Also, due to the rising sea levels from the last Great Thaw, they believe that there are larger settlements than Halangay down in what would have been valleys 1,500 to 2,000 years ago, which are now underwater.

Scilly Isles, St. Mary's town beach

Scilly Isles, St. Mary’s town beach

I could go on and on about this fascinating place; check out this link to the Scilly Isles to see for yourself!

 

 

 

The Uffington White Horse

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Uffington White HorseI like to go “flying” occasionally with Google Earth; it is how my husband and I discovered the Scilly Isles (I’ll tell you more about that sometime), and how I’ve found several hill figures across the UK; here’s one of my favourites:

Dating from the late Bronze Age (1000–700 BC), the Uffington White Horse (in Oxfordshire, nearest the town of Uffington) is a stylized hill figure of 110 metres long, created by deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk. It is protected and maintained by the National Trust as a Scheduled Ancient Monument (if it is not cleaned regularly it would disappear rapidly, the chalk being washed away by rain or the trenches filling in with local vegetation).

Iron Age Celtic CoinsThese coins pictured are Iron Age Celtic coins (the currency of the pre-Roman population), and the designs are comparable to the White Horse, supporting the early dating (it was thought for some time that the figure could have been constructed as late as the Iron Age, 800 BC–AD 100, but samples from silt of the figure supported the earlier date).  The White Horse is by far the oldest such figure in Britain, but certainly not the only one; ancient figures are scattered throughout the British Isles, though Wiltshire alone has at least eight.  When you have a few minutes to spare, take a Google Earth flight over the UK, and see if you can spot any other figures!

 

OOPArts

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OOPArts are out-of-place artefacts, though other objects of historical, archaeological, or palaeontological interest are included.  The term was coined by the naturalist and cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson.  It isn’t a term used by mainstream scientists as it may be considered tainted with unprofessionalism; it is largely used by those who study the pseudo-scientific topics such as paranormal activities, fringe theories such as ancient astronauts, or the topic of creatures such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.

Having said all that, I find it interesting to read about various objects that have been labelled as OOPArt.  Here are a few:

The Abydos Helicopter

The Wolfsegg Iron

The Klerksdorp spheres

The  Iron pillar of Delhi

The Baghdad Battery

The Abydos helicopter

The Iron Man (Eiserner Mann)

The Quimbaya airplanes

The Dendera Lamps

The Cambodian Stegosaurus

The Cambodian Stegosaurus

The Cambodian Stegosaurus

While some may be explained with scientific methods, other official “scientific” explanations seem to me, frankly, far-fetched.  Judge for yourself, and enjoy the curiosities of our planet’s history!

 

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