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Tag Archives: Archaeology

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 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!

 

The (Tongue in Cheek) Truth about Stonehenge

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If you think that ancient druids built Stonehenge, you’d be wrong… off by a couple thousand years, actually.  Here’s a quirky, tongue-in-cheek historical low-down on the famous standing stones:  Just click on the image below!

Stonehenge - credit - destinationsalisbury-co-uk

Gold Dust in History

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Dust is an amazing thing, when you stop and think about it:  It’s made of us (the death of our cells), of pollen (a sign of the life of spring), and a myriad of other ingredients that make up that gathering layer.  It might be annoying to clean away sometimes, but when it’s stirred up in the golden light of the morning sun it’s magical.  It’s all a matter of perspective.

The same goes for proverbial dust:  Abandoned building (urban dust), or a fallen tree (rural dust).  For some, those things might represent failure, for others progress; some may only see waste, others potential.  Click on the photo below to follow the link to a list of abandoned sites around the world:  Some may see them as a sad indictment of human waste, but I see those places as monuments to someone’s ingenuity, to meeting the needs of the times, perhaps to false planning or miscalculation, but either way they are rich pickings for my imagination as a writer – I imagine the human stories behind their creation, at their demise, and those still affected by the fact of these sites now.

Abandoned Military Hospital in Beelitz, Germany

Abandoned Military Hospital in Beelitz, Germany

 

The Diva Mummy of China

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When we think of well-preserved mummies we tend to think of Egypt; but in fact, the best preserved mummy of all time comes from China.  Known as the “Diva Mummy”, the Lady of Dai died sometime between 178 and 145 BC; when she was found in the 1970s her skin was still elastic, and she was still intact, down to the nose hairs.  For the full story, click on the photo below.

Lady-of-Dai-mummy

The Liebster Award

liebster_awardI am very honoured to have the opportunity to pass on a wonderful blog award recently given to me: The Liebster Award recognizes blogs that currently have fewer than 200 followers.  My blogs are gradually reaching a wider audience, which is encouraging, but could certainly use more exposure – anyone who writes knows it’s nice to be heard, and if it’s appreciated by others, all the better!  And if, like me, you invest time and care into the research that goes in to making a blog worth reading, it’s reward in itself to know that others enjoy it, and benefit from the investment of time and energy!  Awards are a way of honouring that hard work, as well as a reciprocal form of networking.  So here’s a nod to a few small blogs that are worth noticing.

The Rules:

1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog.

2. Answer the 10 questions given to you by the nominee before you.

3. You must nominate 10 blogs that interest you but have fewer than 200 followers and notify them of their nomination.

4. Pass on the ten questions for your nominees to answer (or come up with your own).

Thank you very much to Sarah Angleton over at thepracticalhistorian for nominating me!

Ten Questions:

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

Every summer holiday, I would find some way to earn money; one year I made a killing with fur-covered golf balls as “pet balls” (pet rocks were all the rage, and I added the golf balls to my stock):  My father worked in the police evidence department, and someone had robbed a fur coat store; rather than be caught with the evidence they had shredded the coats into small pieces.  We got a bag of the scraps (once they’d been released) and they were perfect for my pet scheme!  My first official job was in a Dunkin’ Donuts; the first week I worked there all I wanted to eat was Nacho chips to counter the sugary air I inhaled all morning…

WHY DID YOU START BLOGGING?

I started blogging because, as a writer, I had countless ideas and wanted an outlet, as well as a place to get the word out about my books.  To date I have five blogs, and I also run a forum fielding grammar/syntax/linguistic questions from (mainly) British writers, on a writers’ website called the Writer’s Workshop.

WHAT KIND OF FAMILY DID YOU GROW UP IN?

A typical middle-class Kansan family in Bible-belt America.  Think Superman, Ma & Pa Kent; those were my grandparents.

AS A CHILD, IS THIS WHERE YOU THOUGHT YOU’D BE AT THIS AGE?

Nope!  I thought I’d be in Scotland (I emigrated there in 1988); and I would still be there if I hadn’t met my Swiss husband in a Scottish castle (where we were living at the time).

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PLACE TO VISIT?

The Scottish Highlands!  Norway comes in at a close second.

IF YOU COULD TRAVEL ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, WHERE WOULD YOU GO?

As soon as Star Trek beaming technology becomes reality I’d like to take my husband back to Hawaii with me (I was at school there in ’86), to visit old friends.

WHAT’S THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE EVER PURCHASED?

Officially, my husband purchased it:  Our home.

CAT OR DOG PERSON?

Definitely cat.  All three of ours would ignore a dog until it went away.  I love all animals, but I don’t have to take a cat on a walk in the rain at 3 a.m. to do its business… I can continue writing!

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE?

Ooh, that’s a tough one.  It depends on my mood.  I have an extensive collection, and study them with a writer’s eye.  Science Fiction, CGI, Rom-Coms, Historical, Action / Adventure, as well as Documentary… you name it.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE MUSIC?

At the moment, that would be a compilation of instrumental pieces from the Twilight Piano Series, and instrumental pieces from the various Twilight films.  It varies according to my mood, but I’ve listened to a lot less music since I started writing than ever before in my life!

 

I’d like to pass on this nomination to a few blogs that have caught my interest, but that don’t have a large following yet. A few are just getting launched, and others haven’t been found by their wider audience yet.  I decided to choose mainly historically- and archaeologically-focused sites:

  1. Electric PuppetMatrix White Rabbit
  2. Archaeotutor
  3. Dave Weldrake:  Heritage Education
  4. where in the hell am I
  5. The Prelusive Cat
  6. History and Archaeology Blog
  7. The Feast Bowl
  8. archaeologyntwales
  9. Surgically Surreal
  10. History Echoes

To my readers, enjoy perusing these little gems!  To the nominees, have fun exploring and being more exposed to the world of WordPress!  Just follow the white rabbit and see where it leads!

Avaldsnes – A Hidden Gem

I recently went to Norway on a holiday/research trip for a novel I’m in the process of writing; however, Norway seems to carry its dislike of small-talk into the arena of promotion and marketing, and as a result its museums and attractions are not as well advertised, marketed or signposted as they could be; we only found out about this little gem of a site because we happened to run into a Swiss friend in Haugesund, and he knew of the place!  I promised the curators to get the word out, so here’ goes, and with pleasure:

On the island of Karmøy, along the western coast of Norway, sits Avaldsnes.  With over 50,000 islands in Norway it wouldn’t seem to our modern minds, as dominated by cars and roads as we are, to be a significant location.  But Avaldsnes is rewriting Viking history.  It has long been a place from which to control shipping passages through the narrow neck of the Karmunsundet, also called the Seaway to the North, or in Norwegian “Nordvegen,” and it is the maritime route that eventually gave its name to the country.

The kings of sagas and lays have become real at Avaldsnes, the rich archaeological finds there making it one of the most important locations in Europe for the study of Viking history.  Avaldsnes was a royal seat; so it’s not surprising that some of the most important burials in Norway have been found here:  One of its ship burials was dated to the 8th century (making it much older than any other known such burials).  It was clearly a king’s burial, and the findings there have proven its political importance several hundred years before King Harald Fairhair unified Norway.

2 August 2013 - Avaldsnes St Olav's Church 43 (800x600)

St. Olav’s Church

Today there are three points of interest at Avaldsnes, all within walking distance from each other:  St. Olav’s church, built on the site of the oldest church in Norway, was commissioned by King Håkon Håkonson around 1250 AD as part of the royal manor complex.  On the north side of the church stands the Virgin Mary’s Sewing Needle, one of Norway’s tallest standing stones measuring in at 7.2 metres today, though it was originally much taller:  The local legend says that when the obelisk touches the wall of the church Doomsday will come; so over the years priests have climbed the stone in the dead of night to chip away any threatening pieces from the top, thus saving the world from annihilation.  This church was an important site for pilgrims on their way to Nidaros (the medieval name for Trondheim, the capital of the land’s first Christian kings and the centre of Norwegian spiritual life up until the Protestant Reformation); on the north side of the church is a sealed door which was originally the entrance for those pilgrims, as it is said that they had to enter any church with their backs to the north.

2 August 2013 - Avaldsnes Museum 36 (800x600)

Nordvegen Historic Centre

The next site is the Nordvegen Historic Centre; at first glance it is merely a circular stone monument, but it is actually a stairway leading down into the underground museum, built so as to not interfere with the landscape.  The exhibitions guide you (with a bit of modern technology) through 3,500 years of history through Avaldsnes, focusing on daily life, international contacts and cultural influences from those contacts.  Foreign trade and communication was a major factor at Avaldsnes, and archaeological evidence shows it to be a barometer to the prosperity and decline of European commerce as a whole.  The museum has a hands-on section, as well as a gift shop that’s well-stocked with books covering various aspects of Viking history.

3 August 2013 - the Viking Farm 1 (800x597)

The Viking Farm

The third site is a hidden gem, located about 20 minutes’ walk from St. Olav’s:  The Viking farm.  The gravel path takes you along the shore, over two bridges and through a forest to a small island.  It’s well worth the hike as you come through the forest to find a Viking village, tucked behind a typical Telemark-style fence.  A 25-metre longhouse is the centrepiece, a reconstruction of a 950 AD house, and built of pine and oak, with windows of mica sheets.  The aroma of tar wafts from the house as you approach, being painted with pitch to weather-proof it; the smell reminds me of a dark peat-whiskey.  [The photo of the longhouse has one element missing to the trained eye:  The low stone wall which should surround the house, as insulation, is missing at the moment while boards are being repaired.]  Other buildings on the farm include pit houses (both woven twig walls as well as wattle and daub) used for activities such as weaving, cooking or food preparation, and other crafts necessary to daily life; a round house, a reconstruction of archaeological finds in Stavanger (which may be a missing link between temples and stave churches in their construction); various buildings of a smaller size, and at the shore is a 32-metre leidang boat house, representing a part of the naval defence system developed in the Viking Age; a settlement with a leidang was expected to man the ship with warriors and weapons when the king called upon them for aid.  When the boat house was vacant of its ship, it was used as a feasting hall, and the modern replica follows that example; it is often hired out for celebrations or festivals.

3 August 2013 - the Viking Farm 76 (800x600)

The Leidang Boat House

Both the museum and the Viking farm have friendly and knowledgeable staff; the farm staff are all in hand-made period clothing and shoes; as a matter of fact one of the women was working on her dress while we were there, and she said it was linen; the total hours to make such a dress from start to finish would be around 600 hours – had it been leather, it would have taken much, much longer.  That is why clothing was very valuable, and most people only had the clothes on their back; you were considered wealthy if you had a change of clothing, even into the mid-eighteenth century in countries such as England.

If you are interested in Viking history, Avaldsnes is well worth the journey.  Take your time; we stayed overnight in the area to spread the visit out over two days, and we could have spent much more time there.  If you’re a natural introvert like me, you’ll need time to process the multitude of impressions, but that’s what we like – quality time, and quality input.  And then get the word out about these points of interest!

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