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.
clipped from
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:
clipped from

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.