Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Garden megaliths

Pagan couple move their stone circle into suburban home
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The stone circle megalith was originally erected in the grounds of Abbotts Court by Burberry fashion house founder Thomas Burberry in the early 1900s.

The couple - who teach magic and witchcraft - uncovered the stone circle shortly after they bought Abbotts Court in 1980 and planned to leave it as an historic landmark when they downsized.

But the property developer who bought the mansion threatened to dump the monoliths if they were left behind.

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Well, if the stones were prehistoric, they had already been removed from their original context by the former owner of the couple's house (Thomas Burberry), and the Pagan couple have saved them from destruction by the property developers that bought their house. It does suggest that this kind of garden feature should be protected by heritage legislation, as the fashion for (supposedly) "druidic" garden features was very popular at one point (especially in the Gothick phase of Romanticism), though 1900 seems quite late for this kind of thing. I wonder where the stones came from originally?

Update: I am reliably informed that by the Edwardian period the law would have stopped even a plutocrat from uprooting a genuine stone circle, and that this is a modern one, made of quarried Portland stones. Nevertheless it still seems wrong that the property developers could just do away with such an interesting garden feature.

Friday, 21 November 2008

witches in history

The main witch persecutions that resulted in actual deaths started in the 16th century, mainly due to economic and social pressures resulting from the Reformation. (See Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas). People had previously relied on the charity provided by the monasteries; once these were dissolved in England, there were a lot more poor old people around asking for handouts. People felt guilty for not helping them, so when the old women went away mumbling, they assumed that they had been bewitched when they got psychosomatic symptoms resulting from their feelings of guilt. Also the Catholic Church had provided oodles of protection against sorcery, in the form of holy water, amulets etc., whereas the Protestants just told people to pray. Great.

The Inquisition was more interested in persecuting heretics, especially conversos (Jews and Muslims forcibly converted to Catholicism) in Spain. The majority of people judicially killed for witchcraft were in Protestant areas.

The witch persecutions in England differed in character from those in the rest of Europe. The things people were accused of were different. In Europe, witches were accused of flying to Sabbats and having intercourse with the devil; frequently, midwives were accused of performing abortions and stealing children (source: numerous broadsheets in German). In England, they were accused of having witches' teats to give suck to their familiars; bewitching cattle etc. In Europe and Scotland, witchcraft was a heresy, and therefore subject to ecclesiastical law, with the penalty of being burnt. In England, witchcraft was a felony, subject to criminal law, and the penalty was hanging.

There is no unbroken line of witch religion stretching back into the mists of time. The foundation date of modern Wicca appears to have been sometime in the 1920s, according to the latest research by Philip Heselton in Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration (an excellent book, as was its predecessor, Wiccan Roots). During the nineteenth century (and possibly the eighteenth century), there were various people who either self-identified as cunning folk or witches, or were labelled as such by their neighbours. However there was no organised movement of witchcraft, only isolated groups 'reinventing the wheel' - and they weren't necessarily pagan either - much of their magic was based on Christian symbolism (cf the story Marklake Witches by Rudyard Kipling). Note that the cunning folk were not witches - during the period of persecution they had often accused women of being witches and handed them over to the authorities.

In England, small snippets of Pagan belief and practice had survived and been incorporated into folk belief and practice - but again there was no large-scale survival of ancient Paganism. In some of the more remote corners of Europe (e.g. Scandinavia and Lithuania), ancient Paganisms survived much longer, and so when they were revived, the revivals were much closer to the original forms. There were also traditional practitioners of magic in Finland, particularly among the Sami people.

People really should be forced to read Triumph of the Moon: a history of modern pagan witchcraft by Ronald Hutton before they are allowed to make pronouncements about the history of witchcraft.

There's also an excellent article by Jenny Gibbons, Recent developments in the study of the Great European Witch Hunt, originally published in The Pomegranate, the journal of Pagan Studies.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Vikings' burning question

You see, they were sensitive types really...
The Vikings' burning question: some decent graveside theatre
The average Viking lived a life in which spirituality and thoughts of immortality played a far more important part than the rape and pillage more usually associated with his violent race, according to new research. A study of thousands of excavated Viking graves suggests that rituals were performed at the graveside in which stories about life and death were presented as theatre, with live performances designed to help the passage of the deceased from this world into the next.

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Tironian notes

I just discovered the fascinating topic of Tironian notes and other ancient alphabets and forms of shorthand.

Tironian notes were invented in Ancient Rome by a freed slave called Tiro, and remained in use into the medieval period. They were a form of shorthand. The Tironian & symbol is still in use in Ireland, according to the Wikipedia article.

I wonder if any archaeological items have been found with Tironian notation on them?

Monday, 17 November 2008

Göbekli Tepe

Possibly the world's oldest temple...
Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years. The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it's the site of the world's oldest temple.
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Monday, 3 November 2008

Home of Robinson Crusoe

They actually found a pair of dividers which probably belonged to Alexander Selkirk.
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Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of the campsite of a marooned sailor who is said to have inspired the fictional castaway Robinson Crusoe.

The findings, carried in the journal Post-Medieval Archaeology, follow digs on a Pacific island west of Chile.

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Friday, 31 October 2008


Tees Archaeology Day School, 8th November 2008
This year's topic: Prehistoric Ritual and Burial

Tees Archaeology are holding their annual Dayschool at The Conference Centre, Ebsworth Building, University of Durham - Stockton Campus, Stockton-on-Tees on Saturday 8th November 2008.

This year's topic for discussion is Prehistoric Ritual and Burial and will feature talks by Paul Brown, Robin Daniels, Yvonne Luke, Peter Rowe, Steve Speak, Blaise Vyner and Duncan Hale.

We are also pleased to announce that there will be a live Flint Knapping demonstration by John Lord.

Refreshments will be served but buffet lunch must be pre-ordered.

Tickets are on sale now from Tees Archaeology.
National Trust Event at Stonehenge 15th November
Ancient Burial in the Stonehenge Landscape
Venue Stonehenge Landscape (in Wiltshire)
Explore the sacred downland around the stone circle with an expert guide on a 3½ mile walk, and discover how the leaders of this ancient civilization were buried in rituals that changed over time.
Booking essential: 01980 664780

Friday, 24 October 2008

Two CoBDOs

According to the official website of the Council of British Druid Orders:
We the undersigned Representatives of Orders and Officers of The Council of British Druid Orders, established 1989 (˜The Council), would like it known that we do not recognise nor permit the usage of, nor representation under, the name of the Council by any other Groups or Individuals other than those undersigned Orders and Individuals.

Neither do we recognise or support the usage and representation of our name by any group claiming to be a subsidiary or regional Council of CoBDO.

Arthur Pendragon, Loyal Arthurian Warband (joined 1991)
Rollo Maughfling, Glastonbury Order of Druids (Founder Member 1989)
Liz Murray, Universal Druid Order (joined 1990)
Steve Wilson, Druid Clan of Dana (joined 1991)
Sarah Rooke, Berengaria Order of Druids
David Morgan-Brown, Order of the Red Dragon (joined 2003)
Louise Turner, Druids of Albion (joined 1996)
Veronica Hammond, Cotswold Order of Druids (joined 1995)
Wayne Hughes, Phoenix Order of Druids (joined 2007)
Tony Jameson, Dorset Order of Druids (joined 2007)
Paul Bills, Cumbrian Order Of Druids (joined 2007)
Douglas Lyne, Iolo Morganwg Fellowship (joined 1991)

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Whose land is it anyway?

A guest post by Clare Slaney, one of the members of Pagans for Archaeology:

How might we reach agreement over what might happen to ancient human remains, those currently in the care of museums and universities and those yet to be excavated? This question is being asked once more as CoBDO West request that the remains of people excavated within the Avebury complex be reburied. Our relationship to the Land, to the Ancestors, to the ideas of ownership and responsibility as well as the needs of our own personal identity all intimately inform this issue.

‘The Land’ is a dangerous concept particularly when it’s linked to lawful claim. How much blood has been spilled to claim a few meters of earth? CoBDO West maintain that the land is ‘the Earth Goddess’ and that ‘Druids are the guardians and representatives of these living spiritual landscapes.’ (2008:5). As a Dianic witch I have no trouble in agreeing that the Land is also the Goddess. As a druid, a witch or anything else, I don’t consider druids or anyone else a representative of the land. Both ‘representative’ and ‘guardian’ have paternal overtones that I’m uncomfortable with. The Avebury landscape, being a World Heritage Site and coming under the jurisdiction of English Heritage (EH) and National Trust (NT) is particularly well maintained and I’m grateful for their care of the landscape for the sake of educating people about our shared past. Other than that, the Land speaks for Herself. How we hear Her is about us rather than Her.

CoBDO West say the Ancestors ‘are everyones family and belong to us all’ (2008:6) and are clear that they claim no special genetic inheritance to the Avebury remains. They note that ‘. . . all people indigenous to Europe have a ‘close genetic claim’ (ibid.) which, while scientifically true, spiritually excludes every non-caucasian. And since, through the genetic inheritance argument, all caucasian people have equal dibs on the Avebury remains why shouldn’t Mrs Freda Smith of Tiverton be able to assert her right to put all ancient human remains in her airing cupboard? She has exactly the same access to the Otherworld as any Pagan who claims that they know how to deal with these remains.

Other groups who have fought for the return of the remains of their ancestors from museums are significantly different from those British individuals calling for something similar. Pre-colonial peoples were decimated by Europeans. The bones and goods of someone who died 5,000 years ago are very different from the bones and goods of people who can be remembered by name and who may have been murdered by colonists. In the past museums and collectors kept and displayed these items to demonstrate European superiority over indigenous people through the demonstration of ‘primitive’ culture or under the guise of ‘ethnography’. (Simpson 1996, Cooper 2007) something that modern British museums do not do. Even so, in the US where the repatriation issue is perhaps best developed it is specific about ancestry and cultural affiliation, the 9,400 year old remains of Kennewick Man do not belong to Native Americans. (See Slayman 1999) For added interest a far right Asatru group also claimed and were given religious rights over the remains. ( Some Native Americans are adamant that they do have rights to these remains on the basis of their songs and stories.

Songs and stories, beliefs and feelings are important to Pagans and have a long lineage. Dion Fortune, one of the mothers of modern Paganism, writes
There are many old customs connected with the passing of a soul which have their roots in psychic fact and are not merely superstitious. Some, of course, are pre-Christian in origin and their usefulness has passed away. . .
Fortune's inheritor as far as death ritual is concerned, is Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki:
It would seem that there has never been a time when humanity did not believe in a life, or at least some form of existence, after death . . .the word ‘exist’ gives us a clue to one of humanities greatest fears concerning death which is, will we exist in a form we can recognise as ourselves? Will we be able to say ‘I’ and know that ‘I’ to be the personality were were in life?
Pagans do not yet have a theo/alogy of the soul or the spirit, we don’t know where or how the exoteric personality is boundaried or expressed; we don’t know what happens to that putative soul, or how or where or when or for what purpose. We do not know what that ‘I’ is in ourselves let alone in the ancient dead. Some Pagans have a tradition of the Summerlands (an invention of 19th Century Spiritualism) in the direction of the setting sun and a place of joy, reunion, pleasure for the dead. Some Pagans count Annwn as their place of the dead or some other, unspecified place of pleasure and relaxation, but no one seems to be certain what we do there after resting and enjoying ourselves or even how potential reincarnation may occur. I don’t, do you? More important than a lack of theo/alogy is the lack of agreement between Pagan groups over almost everything, including whether the written Brehon laws include a death penalty or not. This a strength rather than a weakness: most of us can live with the tension of not knowing and continue to be firm in our faith.

CoBDO West maintain that reburial is a ‘Loving and respectful act for the sacred relics of our ancestral remains and both morally desirable and spiritually important.’ We know that we have a tendency to deify the dead to ‘not speak ill’ of them but we don’t know if any of the adult remains in the Keiller Museum belonged to rapists or child abusers or torturers. We don’t know if their remains are worthy of respect. If we accept that it is ‘moral’ to keep the dead buried just where they are, forever, then we better get ready to give over all our land to them. What do we do when yet another Anglo Saxon cemetery is discovered during development? Build over them? Take them somewhere else for reburial? Where? How many bones do we make room for? Do we include any boats they may be buried in, and how do we propose excavating and then transporting these delicate objects? (Or are Anglo Saxon remains not as Ancestral as Neolithic?) How do we protect remains from other Pagan groups who believe they have a greater claim to guardianship and representation?

If we decide we want to create cemeteries for the ancient dead then I wonder why we haven’t been able to create cemeteries for ourselves. In the 50 years that Paganism has been active in Britain we have not been able to sustain one single group that caters for our own dying, dead and bereaved.

The storage and display of human remains will always be contentious but I’m far happier to know that they are being catalogued and stored in a controlled environment than I am with the idea of whoever writes the floweriest poetry or shouts loudest and longest being given responsibility for them. Particularly when these individuals and groups in fact do not represent the Druidic attitude to ancient human remains. Simply because they say they do does not make it so. I haven’t heard about the enormous uprising of Druidry in outrage over remains we have known and cared about for decades. I wasn’t aware that Druidry had special authority over other Pagan groups or when this may have become orthodoxy.

Of course, Druidry and other Paganisms have never claimed any special rights over anything. We have a particular way of articulating the relationship all people have with the Land and Ancestors, but the idea that a small group that has no lineage or relationship with a past we can have no conception of can claim to represent the ancient dead or the land comes too close to bringing Paganism into disrepute. We need to continue to discuss the matter but in terms of theo/alogy rather than in terms of our rights or what the voices are telling us. When we have a coherent and shared concept of what happens to that eternal, transcendent part of ourselves, or even what that part might be called, or even if that part exists, then we can present a cogent argument that goes beyond ‘It would be beautiful.’

What do ancient earthworks and prehistoric stone monuments of our ancient ancestors signify? What do huge chalk figures communicate? How do we understand the barrows and cysts that punctuate the landscape? The best guess - like everything else we believe we know about the ancient past, coming from archaeology - is that these are statements of ownership. A great big White Horse carved into the Ridgeway is a statement of well organised power. The movement of enormous stones across many miles can be done for love but after all that effort you’re not going to agree to someone else coming along, taking your stones down and putting them somewhere they prefer. Indeed, our bodies return to the Mother after death and we become the Land but why build such imposing monuments into the landscape, and why did the shape of these tombs change over time? “We are here. We are the land. We own the land.” Our Ancestors did not come from Atlantis, they were as red in tooth and claw as we are today and perhaps more straightforward in their desire for appropriation and recognition.

— Clare Slaney

Ashcroft Norwicki, D. (1992) The New Book of the Dead. Aquarian Press.

Cooper, K (2007) Spirited Encounters: American Indians Protest Museum Policies and Practices, Altamira Press

Council of British Druid Orders (CoBDO West) (2008) Request for the Reburial of Human Remains and Grave Goods, Avebury

Fortune, D. (2005) Dion Fortune’s Book of the Dead. Weiser Books.

Kennewick Man Virtual interpretative Centre (2008)Tri-City Herald, Associated Press

Simpson, M.G. (1996) Making Representations: Museums in the Postcolonial Era. Routledge.

Slayman, A.L. (1999) Kennewick Man: NAGPRA on Trial. Archaeological Institute of America

Friday, 17 October 2008

Not all Pagans want reburial

An article has appeared in the Swindon Advertiser about the reburial consultation.

Not all Pagans want reburial. The large membership of this group (currently 171, and that's with no advertising) is evidence of that. I have put forward the specifically Pagan arguments for not reburying before:
Respect as remembering - the 'memory' discourse
  • Funerary monuments
  • Elegies
  • Hávamál
  • Popol Vuh
  • Memory as part of identity, knowing where you have come from
  • Ancestors as individuals with stories
  • The sense of archaeology and history as contributing to identity
Reburial involves a permanent loss of access to the bones for study. As archaeologist Mike Parker-Pearson says in his letter to English Heritage (pdf):
The study of human remains is central to our growing knowledge of human evolution and to our understanding of human lifeways (diet, mobility, health etc.) as well as the diversity and development of funerary rites and rituals.

Prehistoric remains are of special significance for investigating Britain’s past because it is now apparent that the vast majority of prehistoric people were disposed of in ways that have left no archaeological traces. This means that those human remains that have survived from these unrecorded times are all the more significant as rare and irreplaceable testimony of past lives. In the absence of written texts, our knowledge of prehistory is entirely reliant on archaeological material, of which human remains represent one of the most important sources. When it comes to learning about the people themselves, their remains are of paramount importance for finding out about how they led their lives.
I can only conclude that the people who want these remains reburied are not actually interested in learning about the life-ways of past people.

And you can't say, "well rebury the remains after they have been studied", because techniques for study are constantly improving, and we can learn more from the remains in the future; Prof Parker-Pearson continues:
There have been considerable advances in the scientific study of human remains over the last 20 years, and the rate of innovation in applicable methods and techniques is continuing. Within the short span of my own academic career since 1990, I have seen hitherto undreamed-of developments in the ability to recover ancient DNA from skeletons, the measurement of isotopes to reconstruct ancient diet and mobility, the study of diet from microscopic study of wear traces on teeth, the radiocarbon dating of apatite crystals within cremated bone, and the ability to identify evidence for mummification in skeletons from post-mortem alterations to bone tissue, amongst many other techniques.

Those innovations continue. Archaeological scientists are currently developing new techniques to extract information on starches locked up in the calculus that forms around teeth. The narrow range of elements used in isotopic studies is being widened to address more questions about past lifestyles, as in the case of the Alpine iceman. Dating techniques are likely to be refined and improved. Better understanding of morphometric and non-metric traits will improve our understanding of past population affinities. It is patently clear that there will be new and improved analytical methods and techniques in ten years’ time and beyond.
The research project (see the report appended to the letter) looking into these particular remains is very valuable in discovering more about how the Beaker People lived and whether they were invaders from somewhere else, and relies heavily on studying the actual human remains.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

More apotropaic marks

Lacock Tithe Barn apotropaic marks by Yewtree, on Flickr Lacock

I spotted this apotropaic mark in the doorway of Lacock Tithebarn the other weekend. It's rather similar to the ones on Bradford-on-Avon Tithe Barn.

The circle with daisy-wheel in it is a Heathen symbol, but it seems very unlikely that it was meant as a heathen symbol in this context (tithe barns were for gathering tithes for the Church). But it is nevertheless a magical act to attempt to turn away harm using a special symbol.

Reburial consultation

Consultation on request for reburial of prehistoric human remains from the Avebury area, Wiltshire
In 2006, English Heritage (EH) and the National Trust (NT) received a request from a Druid group for the reburial of prehistoric human remains from archaeological excavations in the Avebury area, which are currently in the Alexander Keiller Museum at Avebury.

As there are many groups and individuals who have an interest and views on this request, we are making the draft report and assembled evidence available for comment by other interested parties before EH and the NT make any decisions.

We would welcome any comments; the deadline for receipt of comments is 31 January 2009.

Go to the "How to comment" section to submit comments.

Monday, 13 October 2008

the archaeology of language

Save the endangered words! The language would be poorer without mansuetude, vilipend, embrangle and skirr.

What you can do: adopt an endangered word and use it frequently.

Such words sometimes represent the archaeology of language - describing forgotten practices, jobs, sounds, smells and states of mind, like accidie. It would be a shame if they were lost.

Hat-tip to the Silver Eel.

Also, if you want to increase your word-power and help feed people, Free Rice is quite fun.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Vikings were looking for wives

So apparently the Vikings were just looking for a bit of cosy domesticity.
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During the Viking Age from the late eighth to the mid-eleventh centuries, Scandinavians tore across Europe attacking, robbing and terrorizing locals. According to a new study, the young warriors were driven to seek their fortunes to better their chances of finding wives.

The odd twist to the story, said researcher James Barrett, is that it was the selective killing of female newborns that led to a shortage of Scandinavian women in the first place, resulting later in intense competition over eligible women.

"Selective female infanticide was recorded as part of pagan Scandinavian practice in later medieval sources, such as the Icelandic sagas," Barrett, who is deputy director of Cambridge University's McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, told Discovery News.

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Hat tip to wiccantexan

Red Lady controversy

Interesting, a repatriation case between two museums.

AN Elgin Marbles-style campaign has begun to secure the return to Wales of the Red Lady of Paviland, one of the world's most important archaeological finds.

The skeleton of the "Red Lady" complete with jewellery and a mammoth's head marker was discovered in 1823 at Paviland Cave on Gower.

Later analysis showed the skeleton to be that of a man, possibly a chieftain, but the Red Lady tag stuck.

It emerged that the bones, stained by red ochre, were the oldest ceremonially buried remains ever found in Western Europe.

They go back to 24,000BC pre-dating Stonehenge by 20,000 years.

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Thursday, 11 September 2008

PFA Facebook group

The Facebook group now has 165 members. That means 165 people who are prepared to sign up for the statement of what we stand for. The Facebook page (which imports this blog into Facebook) has 189 fans. The Yahoo group has 16 members (but some of those are also in the Facebook group). At this rate we could organise a conference.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Czech archaeological finds

Czech archaeologists have uncovered a torso of a unique female statue created about 7000 years ago near Masovice, which is the second similar find in this locality

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Of course, we don't know if these statues are goddesses; the "Great Goddess of Antiquity" myth has been pretty thoroughly debunked. But they are beautiful and interesting pieces of art made by our distant ancestors.

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The 14-meter sculpture of a pregnant woman is the most valuable discovery of archeologists. It be the only one in the world.

According to archeologist Mykola Kogutyak, the sculpture is 5-6 thousand years old. “It is the interweaving of north Black Sea civilizations,” he said.

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Follow the link to the article for some amazing photos of this unique find.

Monday, 1 September 2008

CHAT 2008

The conference poster, abstracts, timetable and registration information are available for CHAT 2008. Nick and I presented at CHAT 2007.
CHAT (Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory)
is a dynamic forum for innovative critical discussion that seeks to challenge and push the limits of archaeological thinking. To date this has been achieved through five annual conferences, publications and an active email discussion group. This year’s conference takes CHAT in a new direction, exploring connections between these theoretical perspectives and ideals and the more traditional concerns of heritage management practice.
Unfortunately, it also clashes with the Re-enactors' Market, which I really like going to.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Alpine archaeology

Due to the shrinkage of glaciers caused by climate change, archaeologists have found the remains of Neolithic weapons and clothing in the high Alps, including shoes, trousers and bows and arrows.

This implies that the shrinkage of glaciers over the last five years is greater than at any time since the Neolithic, which is rather worrying. But the archaeological finds are fascinating, as they show what Neolithic life was like, and that Neolithic people regularly went up into the mountains.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Apotropaic marks, Tithe Barn, Bradford-on-Avon

Apotropaic marks, Tithe Barn, Bradford on Avon, England

Apotropaic marks, Tithe Barn, Bradford on Avon, England

I've blogged about apotropaic marks before, and mentioned the ones at the Tithe Barn in Bradford-on-Avon. Here are some pictures of them; they are daisy-wheels inscribed with a pair of compasses or dividers, probably by one of the masons who built the barn. Exactly what symbolism he may have intended is unclear (the daisy-wheel is a symbol in Heathenry, but it is very unlikely that he was a Heathen). The Tithe Barn was built in the early 14th century as part of the medieval farmstead belonging to Shaftesbury Abbey.

Anyway, the marks are a very clear example of the type. I took these photos on my mobile phone last Sunday.

Apotropaic marks, Tithe Barn, Bradford on Avon, England

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Experimental archaeology and music

Archaeoacoustics is sometimes controversial, but as long as it is regarded as a speculative activity - like much archaeological interpretation of prehistoric remains - then it's a really interesting area to explore. Of course we don't know what prehistoric music sounded like, but we can be pretty sure that it existed, because of finds like ringing rocks and bone flutes.
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Elizabeth Blake suspended three flint blades from a small wooden frame. Holding her cell phone in one hand, she took a piece of antler in the other and gently struck each blade once. Over a bad transatlantic connection, our phone conversation had been difficult, but the tones from the four-inch-long blades came through—clear, sweet, and crystalline. They sounded like hand bells or struck goblets. The blades are replicas of 30,000-year-old artifacts from the sites of Isturitz in the French Pyrenees and Geißenklösterle in southwestern Germany.
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Sagalassos, city in the clouds

This is where they found sculptures of the Emperor Hadrian and the Empress Faustina:
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City in the Clouds

In 1706, Paul Lucas, traveling in southwest Turkey on a mission for the court of Louis XIV, came upon the mountaintop ruins of Sagalassos. The first Westerner to see the site, Lucas wrote that he seemed to be confronted with remains of several cities inhabited by fairies. Later, during the mid-nineteenth century, William Hamilton described it as the best preserved ancient city he had ever seen. Toward the end of that century, Sagalassos and its theater became famous among students of classical antiquity. Yet large scale excavations along the west coast at sites like Ephesos and Pergamon, attracted all the attention. Gradually Sagalassos was forgotten...until a British-Belgian team led by Stephen Mitchell started surveying the site in 1985.

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Friday, 15 August 2008

Is Hatshepsut still hiding?

Guest post by Gene of Witches and Scientists Zita Johann in “The Mummy” (1933)

» DNA tests to study tiny mummies from King Tut tomb

This article is about the upcoming DNA testing on two infant mummies found in King Tutankhamun's tomb. But the part that interests me the most concerns Hatshepsut. I've blogged on the discovery of her body before ( here and here). The Discovery Channel special on the testing of unidentified mummies, in the quest to find Hatshepsut's remains, was certainly interesting. But there are now some problems. The media savvy Head of Egyptian Antiquities, Zahi Hawas has not exactly been forthcoming about his results:
...He has never disclosed the full outcome of the examinations of the mummy of Hatshepsut, Egypt's most powerful queen and the only female pharaoh. Nor has he submitted the results for a test by second lab, as it is a common practice. This has raised concerns about the validity of the Egyptian results...
In the last year, I've been reading of increasing concern in regards to the above. The thing is, even just a careful watching of the televised special reveals some concerns. First off, a great deal of the identification relies on a scan of a supposed tooth fragment imaged in an unopened canopic box. The box has been accurately attributed as containing the organs of Hatshepsut, and the mummy identified as her body is missing a tooth. But that seems rather flimsy evidence. (The box remains unopened, so we don't even know if the object is indeed a tooth.) In addition, Hatshepsut has always been portrayed as rather a petite woman. Yet this mummy is large and obese. In addition, a number of mummies from the Tuthmosis line have been accurately identified, all of them having rather similar facial appearances. Although a forensic match-up was provided in the documentary, the fact is, at least to my eyes, the faces don't really match up.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Swan pits dig diary

You may remember the media frenzy that was caused when the weird swan feather deposits were discovered.

Mysterious pits shed light on forgotten witches of the West
Since 2003, 35 pits at the site in a valley near Truro have been excavated containing swan pelts, dead magpies, unhatched eggs, quartz pebbles, human hair, fingernails and part of an iron cauldron.
The Saveock swan pits excavation has an online diary where you can catch up with the latest finds. Unfortunately it's not a proper blog so there's no feed to subscribe to, no comments, and no facility to link to individual posts. Though you can link to individual photos.

Anyway the really interesting thing is that the practices associated with the pits appear to have been going on from about the 1740s to the 1950s, according to the carbon-dating results:
The next pit we got a date for was the cat pit and that was over a hundred years later 1740’s to 1780’s which we were really pleased with because it meant that this particular belief system had been going on for at least four generations. Then we looked at the date for the dog pit and were completely taken aback! The dog had been alive since the 1950’s!!! It showed what they call ‘Bomb Carbon’ which is as a result of the thermo-nuclear bomb testing in the 1950’s. So we have over 350 years of this practice of depositing various bits of birds and animals in either north south or east west aligned pits in our valley.
I guess this isn't that surprising when you consider that some of the weird stuff they have in the Witchcraft Museum at Boscastle dates from as recently as the 1930s and 1940s.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Venus of Willendorf stamp

Venus of WillendorfThe Austrian postal service has issued a three-dimensional stamp of the Venus of Willendorf.
She is merely 11 centimetres high and approximately 25,000 years old: the famous "Venus of Willendorf", found in the village of Willendorf located in the Wachau region. 7 August 2008 is the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the "Venus of Willendorf". Austrian Post is honouring this very special occasion with a unique stamp. For the first time ever, a three-dimensional stamp has been produced.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Stonehenge consultation

English heritage has produced a spiffy new website with details of the Stonehenge consultation.

The government has ruled out spending lots of money on diverting the road or building a tunnel, so the only options on the table are the ones outlined in the consultation website. This is not English Heritage's fault.

Links to the forms are here, but it's worth going to the website and reading the various options and background material before plunging in.

The Antikythera mechanism

New York Times » Discovering How Greeks Computed In 100 B.C.
After a closer examination of a surviving marvel of ancient Greek technology known as the Antikythera Mechanism, scientists have found that the device not only predicted solar eclipses but also organized the calendar in the four-year cycles of the Olympiad, forerunner of the modern Olympic Games.

The new findings, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, also suggested that the mechanism’s concept originated in the colonies of Corinth, possibly Syracuse, on Sicily. The scientists said this implied a likely connection with Archimedes.
Hat-tip to Witches and Scientists.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Ancient tattoos and acoustic caves

Livia Indica has a new blog about Pagan tattoos, including some posts about tattoos found on ancient human remains:
Over at her other blog, Magic in these hills, she has a post about ancient caves and echolocation, which I also blogged about previously:

Why we love archaeology

Archaeology matters to us because:
Archaeology means the difference between fantasy ideas and facts to me, okay they don't always get it right, but they do try.
History is something we need to learn things from, in my opinion, not because I have this vision of some sort of golden age of yore, but that there are skills and mistakes that we need to learn from.
Many of the basic skills we all once would have had are gone and are now only known to a few, fire-making for one instance. Society might not require those skills right now, not with all the technology we have, but that does not mean they should be lost totally and that's what archaeology means to me, the saving and keeping of our past, because one day we may need that knowledge again.
~ Blu, PFA member
I find archaeology fascinating, like a little kid in a candy shop discovering new and exciting pieces of our evolution and our history.

Whilst I haven't formally studied archaeology at university, I have always found it interesting and particularly in high school studying art my interest was piqued by Ancient Egyptian and Roman crafts and ideals, and now especially as a Witch and a Pagan the Gods and Goddesses and the beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians.

It is amazing to see how we have developed from those times in each little piece we discover. I am in awe of prehistoric times and little pieces of skeletons of dinosaurs that form the now extinct creatures.
The evolution and growth of plant life and animals, and of humans...

I love hearing about medieval times and the discovery of beautiful pieces of silverware, pottery and jewellery which ties into the history of the Celts and Avalonian times, a magical period that really resonates with me.

History is an important part of our development, our past, our present and the future in both advancing technology and in terms of our spiritual development as we can call on our history, our Gods and Goddesses to help with our present and our future...
~ Kali Cox, PFA member
Part of my Pagan outlook is a respect for the wisdom of the past, and the people of the past, so I think we need to know the real stories of past people. Not the history that was written by the winners. The only way we can do that is through archaeology, because ordinary people did not often leave written records (the exciting exceptions being the Paston letters, the Vindolanda Letters, the Book of Margery Kempe, and not much else that I can think of).

I also think that as Pagans we draw on the cultures of the past, and archaeology can really help us make sense of those cultures.
~ Yvonne, PFA member
For me, it adds to my understanding of the present. By studying the past I get a better sense of why and how we came to be as we are now.
~ Kim Hunter, PFA member

Pagan festivals

Wiccan festivals
  • Imbolc / Candlemas : February 1st/ 2nd
  • Spring Equinox : March 20th/ 21st
  • Beltane / May Eve : April 30th / May 1st
  • Midsummer : June 20th/ 21st
  • Lammas/ Lughnasadh : July 31st/ August 1st
  • Autumn Equinox : September 22nd/ 23rd
  • Samhain / Halloween October 31st/ November 1st
  • Yule : December 21st/ 22nd
Druid festivals
  • Samhuinn : October 31-November 1
  • Winter Solstice (Alban Arthan or Alban Arthuan): December 21-22
  • Imbolc : February 1-2
  • Vernal Equinox (Alban Eiler or Alban Eilir): March 20-21
  • Beltaine : April 30-May 1
  • Summer Solstice (Alban Heruin or Alban Hefin): June 21-22
  • Lughnasada : July 31-August 1
  • Autumn Equinox (Alban Elued or Alban Elfed): September 21-22
Heathen Festivals
Different Heathen communities and individuals celebrate different cycles of seasonal holidays based on their cultural affiliations, local traditions, and relationships with particular gods. There is no fixed calendar of Heathen festival dates. The three Heathen festivals most commonly
celebrated in the UK are Winter Nights - usually celebrated in October or November, Yule - a twelve day festival that begins around the time of the winter solstice, and a festival for the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre in the spring.

Religio Romana festivals
There are loads of these; and different practitioners seem to celebrate different ones.

One of PFA's members, Aereaus from Denmark, has a blog with details of some lesser-known Pagan festivals. It's called the Pagan Left, and includes details of ancient Roman festivals.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Save the archives

Harry PriceJason at the Wild Hunt blog reports on the impending dispersal of the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature at the University of London, which the university proposes to sell in order to raise funds. There's an article in The Independent, which reports that students are lobbying their colleges for financial contributions. Unfortunately it does not explain how to go about lobbying your college for financial contributions.

This is important because these texts reveal past understandings of magic and mystery, and how occult thought has developed. They should at least digitise the archive before selling the books.

Monday, 14 July 2008

email from Bobcat

I wondered if you could make it clear on your site that HAD does not call for reburial of ancient human remains, but calls for consultation?

In terms of Lindow Man, HAD were consulted because HAD got involved at the very beginning. We then invited local Pagans, i.e. those in Cheshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester, to attend the consultation, and a broad mixture of Pagans did get involved. There was no limit or definition of which Pagans could attend or be part of the consultation, other than that they were local.

In terms of the exhibition itself, and how successfully it expressed the consultation process, you can read my report on the HAD website. What was good to experience was that there was a real consensus between all at the consultation meetings : Pagans, archaeologists, curators, nonPagan local community. Many feel the transposition was too much an expression of the designer's vision and much of the consultation was lost. But that is a big debate. It has nothing whatsoever to do with reburial and HAD.

Blessings, Bobcat /|\

Emma Restall Orr
Honouring the Ancient Dead (HAD)

a wasted opportunity

Well, I suppose I'm going to have to do a review of Bonekickers.

Frankly, I thought it was mostly awful. The characters were quite good, but the plot was terrible, and the script was occasionally dire. The beheading of the poor Muslim guy was in very poor taste, and completely gratuitous and unnecessary for the plot. The caricature of right-wing Christians seems unfair, because even though some of them are severely mad & bad, they haven't actually killed anyone yet. And the next episode doesn't look as if it's going to be much better.

Archaeology is exciting and interesting in its own right - you don't need to jazz it up with conspiracy, murder and mayhem to make it more exciting. In short, this was a wasted opportunity.

singing in caves

On a lighter note, a paper has recently been published on archaeoacoustics by Iegor Reznikoff, and there's an article about it at Yahoo LiveScience.

Funny, I thought Paul Devereux was the man with that particular theory, but I guess there's room in the limelight for two.
Ancient hunters painted the sections of their cave dwellings where singing, humming and music sounded best, a new study suggests.

Analyzing the famous, ochre-splashed cave walls of France, the most densely painted areas were also those with the best acoustics, the scientists found. Humming into some bends in the wall even produced sounds mimicking the animals painted there.
Thanks to Caroline at Necropolis Now for the tip-off.

damage to ancient sites

Recently some damage was caused to the turf at Castlerigg stone circle by someone lighting a fire in the circle. It turned out that the person involved was doing something from their own culture with the consent of local people. But does the consent of 50 randomly-selected people count as informed consent with awareness of the implications? The organisation and person involved have apologised unreservedly. However, it is never okay to light a fire directly on the ground at an ancient site, because it might damage the archaeology, and in some cases, the rare lichens on the stones.

On Sunday I visited Arbor Low in Derbyshire and found a firepit scar just outside the henge. I hope that it wasn't Pagans who were responsible for it - but we are the ones who will end up getting the blame in the minds of the general public unless we take a very clear stand against this sort of thing.

At the Rollrights, there is a large metal fire-dish available for use when you hire the site for rituals; this does not scar the turf or damage the archaeology.

We don't ultimately know exactly what the purpose of stone circles was (though we can make educated guesses based on ethnographic parallels), or whether the practices and beliefs of their builders bear any resemblance to any current culture, whether it is "PaleoPagan" or part of the Pagan revival. So we can't just waltz in and use these places just as we like (this also works in our favour, as for example, in 2000 when some Christians wanted to place a rock carved with Alpha and Omega right in the middle of Mayburgh Henge, and planning permission was rightly refused; there was also a peaceful Pagan protest at the installation of the stone 100 yards from the henge). Stone circles are part of the heritage of everyone in this country, and are not there to be hijacked by any particular group.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Interview with a member of BABAO

BABAO is the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology. You can see BABAO's view of human remains in the various statements they have made. I was very impressed by the speaker from BABAO at the Respect Conference in Manchester in 2006, so I approached Martin Smith, an archaeologist specialising in human remains, who is a member of BABAO's managing committee.

Here's BABAO's statement of principles from their homepage:
BABAO promotes the study of human bioarchaeology and osteoarchaeology for the purpose of understanding humanity from the past to the present. BABAO also provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and information on these topics and strives to improve standards in all aspects of the study of the biological remains of past and present peoples.
BABAO is fully committed to promulgating the highest ethical standards in the treatment and care of human skeletal remains and does not condone actions or statements that violate these principles.
One of the arguments for the retention of human remains that most impressed me was that cultural interpretations and scientific understandings change over time. For example, the bones of the people of Wharram Percy (a deserted medieval village) are stored in carefully-controlled conditions in an Anglo-Saxon church. When they were first excavated, their right forearms were measured to gain an idea of skeletal growth. It was a couple of decades before anyone thought to measure their left forearms as well. It was then that it was discovered that a good twenty percent of them were left-handed (the current percentage of left-handers in the population is 10%). Most of them would have been illiterate, so this finding seems to bear out the hypothesis of psychologists that the bias towards right-handedness occurs because of literacy and language being primarily located in the left hemisphere of the brain, which is "wired" to the right-hand side of the body. From a social history point of view, this finding is also surprising, because one would have thought that medieval people would have a superstitious prejudice against the use of the "sinister" left hand.

So, on with the interview:

PfA: What is your role in BABAO?
MS: I am a member of BABAO’s managing committee (Publicity Secretary)

PfA: What got you interested in archaeology?
MS: I’m not sure really - I’ve always been interested in the past and the fact that archaeology gives us opportunities to find out about aspects of the lives of past people is really quite exciting – particularly in the case of people who lived before there were any written records.

PfA: Do you feel a kinship for the people of the past?
MS: I would say that I do in so far as the past populations of Britain and Europe are the collective ancestors of all modern British people of European origin. For example genetic analysis of the Iceman (the 5000 year old mummified body found in the Alps in 1991) has shown that he is related to a very large proportion of the modern population of Northern Europe. On a wider scale, populations all over the world are related and so we all have a degree of kinship with past peoples wherever they are from.

PfA: What can human remains tell us about the people of the past?
MS: We can learn a great deal from studying human remains; in addition to 'obvious' things like age and sex we can also obtain information on health and diseases, activity and lifestyle, diet and subsistence, levels of mobility and social organization (for example were people nomadic or did they live in one place?) as well as the overall level of biological stress people were subjected to by their lifestyles and environments. In addition, burial archaeology can allow us to gain some sense of the way people perceived the world and perhaps the afterlife. Human remains are the most direct link we have to the peoples that lived before us and they offer the chance to find out information that simply cannot be obtained from any other kind of archaeological remains.

PfA: What is the scientific and/or social value of retaining human remains for study?
MS: Firstly palaeopathology (the study of past health and illness) is beginning to make important progress in shedding light on the development of a number of major diseases in the past. Studying human remains also offers a chance to investigate the effects of various extreme economic and social circumstances on health and physical development which no longer exist in the modern world. Archaeological remains also provide the opportunity to take a really long view of the nature and development of human societies. For example we can ask questions like when did warfare / organised conflict first appear? Is war a type of behaviour that is ‘hard-wired’ into human beings or is it more of a cultural phenomenon? The remains of past people offer a ‘time depth’ when making such inquiries that is simply not available to modern researchers working in other areas of social science.

As a proportion of the total number of people that lived in the past the number of burials that survive to be discovered in modern times is tiny. When ancient human remains are reburied they are gone forever. This not only makes no sense in relation to what we can tell now, but also in that new techniques are constantly being developed that can shed new light on remains that were initially studied decades ago. Reburial is destruction and deprives future generations of the chance to learn more about our shared human past. We should look after these remains very carefully as we have a responsibility to the generations that will come after us that is just as great as our responsibility to those that lived in the past.

PfA: What do you think about the way human remains are displayed in museums?
MS: I think it’s perfectly acceptable to display human remains in museums – in fact there is overwhelming public support for it, providing it is done sensitively and respectfully. Human remains are special and are not the same as other classes of archaeological material such as pottery or metalwork. It is important that museum displays acknowledge this fact and try to tell the stories of individuals as much as possible. Human remains form a kind of record of the memories and events an individual experienced during their lifetime – it’s important for such aspects of the study of human remains to be made apparent in museum displays.

PfA: Do you think there is a role for Pagans in archaeology? Do you think the heritage sector should engage with Pagans?
MS: I think everyone has an equal right to express an opinion and conversely that the heritage sector should engage with everyone on an equal footing. Perhaps one way for Pagans to engage with archaeology is to publicise the importance of caring for the remains of our ancestors and perhaps also in thinking about what sorts of questions should be asked to try and gain a better understanding of the past. It seems clear that many Pagans care deeply about the past. We live in a society where there are a lot of people who don’t appear to care about the past at all. In this regard archaeologists and Pagans could be said to be very much on the same 'side'. There is no reason to see archaeological research and respect as being contradictory. It’s very encouraging to see the formation of a group like Pagans for Archaeology and I'd like to wish the group every success in its endeavours.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

New book: Creating prehistory

Creating Prehistory: Druids, Ley Hunters and Archaeologists in Pre-War Britain
John Wiley and Sons Ltd, May 2008, Pages: 336

Creating Prehistory deals even-handedly and sympathetically with the creation of several different sorts of prehistory during the volatile period between the two World Wars.

- Investigates the origins of professional archaeology in Britain during the inter-war period

- Brings to life many fascinating and controversial personalities and their creeds, including the archaeologists O. G. S. Crawford, Mortimer Wheeler and Gordon Childe; Grafton Elliot Smith and W. H. R. Rivers (of ‘Regeneration’ fame); Alfred Watkins and The Old Straight Track; and the thunderous George Watson Macgregor Reid, who brought the Druids back to Stonehenge

- Examines the production of archaeological knowledge as a social process, and the relationship between personalities, institutions, ideology, and power

- Addresses the ongoing debates of the significance of sites such as Stonehenge, Avebury, and Maiden Castle

Adam Stout is a Research Fellow in Archaeology at the University of Wales, Lampeter. His pioneering study of urban cowkeeping in 1978 marked him out as a historian of the unusual. Other works include The Thorn and the Waters: Miraculous Glastonbury in the Eighteenth Century (2007); What’s Real and What Is Not: Reflections upon Archaeology and Earth Mysteries in Britain (2006); Pimlico: Deep Well of Glee (1997); The Old Gloucester: Study of a Cattle Breed (1980); and a series of acclaimed artistic collaborations including Where Two Rivers Meet: The Story of Kennet Mouth (1994).
Looks like an interesting book. We have a copy of What’s Real and What Is Not: Reflections upon Archaeology and Earth Mysteries in Britain, which makes for interesting reading.

Thanks to Alun for the tip-off.