Eerie abandoned historic malthouses in Lincolnshire

This is the historic and massive Bass Maltings in Sleaford, Lincolnshire.

The site comprises a large group of eight disused malthouses.

The former industrial site was originally owned by the Bass Brewery, of Burton on Trent, and was constructed between 1901 and 1907.

Designed by Herbert A. Couchman design, the maltings are the largest group of malthouses in England.

They have been designated Grade II-listed and are recognised as “particularly important of more than special interest.”

Built in red brick with Welsh slate roofing, the complex follows a rectangular plan along an east–west orientation: a central four-storey water tower is flanked by four malthouses.

Behind the tower is a tall, octagonal chimney. The malthouses are identical in design and layout; barley was fed into a granary section, before being moved onto the germination floors and eventually transported to one of the twin kilns, where malting took place.

Their southern fronts consisted of a six-storey building of five bays with a gable spanning three windows that faces the other ranges.

Projecting northwards is a ten-bay section of four-storeys which formed the germination floors.

The location represents the importance of the English brewing industry in the late-19th and early 20th centuries and large-scale malting at its peak.

Owing to its derelict state, the building was also placed on English Heritage’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ register, in 2011.

After a number of potential new uses for the site, including development for housing and use as a Tesco supermarket, which all fell through due to planning issues and political wrangling over the decades, the site remains disused and derelict to this day.

It is unknown how long the stalemate will continue as the site falls further into disrepair.

It now stands as an eerie relict of a bygone age.

Neolithic standing stone attacked by vandals sparking police appeal

Police are on the trail of vandals who attacked ancient standing stones and carved graffiti into one of them.

Shocked Historic Environment Scotland (HES) staff found the markings on a routine monitoring visit to the Machrie Moor standing stones on Arran.

HES said the stones are a scheduled monument, which means they are legally protected and damage to them, such as graffiti, is a criminal offence.

The heritage body said it would be working with Police Scotland to investigate the incident.

HES tweeted: “On a recent visit to monitor its condition, we were concerned to discover that one of the stones has been damaged by incised (i.e. carved) graffiti.

“As well as being a Property in the Care of Ministers, the standing stones are also designated as a scheduled monument.

“This means they are legally protected and damage to them, such as graffiti, is a criminal offence.”

A subsequent tweet read: “Heritage crime can cause damage that can never be repaired and forces us to spend less resources on important conservation work.”

The impressive megaliths are believed to have been used in ancient rituals and ceremonies.

The landscape includes standing stones, stone circles, cairns and other Neolithic and Bronze Age constructions, as well as hut circles and an extensive field system, which all date to between 3500 and 1500 BC.

HES urged anyone with information to contact Police Scotland or Crimestoppers.

WW2 RAF hero’s Victoria Cross medal sells for massive amount

London auctioneers Spink has sold a Victoria Cross, awarded posthumously to a hero Royal Air Force bomber pilot, for an astronomical £660,000.

Just 26 Victoria Crosses have been awarded to the Royal Air Force to date, of which exactly half of them posthumously – highlighting the sacrifice involved in receiving them.

This particular medal was awarded to Squadron Leader Arthur Scarf for his incredible bravery in the Battle of Malaya, in December 1941.

Joining the RAF in 1936, by December 1941 Arthur Scarf was in Command of his Squadron who were flying Bristol Blenheims close to the Malay-Thai border when relentless Japanese attacks were unleashed; having hurriedly moved to Butterworth airfield, the requirement to stem the rapid advancement and devastating aerial bombardments coming out of Singora saw Scarf take to the air: he could do nothing as he saw every single Blenheim in his Flight shot up before they could even get ‘wheels up’.

Scarf then decided to undertake the mission alone and without fighter support.

The hero made his bombing run despite being constantly harassed, but was mortally wounded on the return journey, having his left arm shattered and several holes in his chest and back from heavy strafing.

Somehow, with the assistance of his two Sergeants – and barely conscious – he kept pressure on the controls despite his shattered arm and managed to crash-land at Alor Star, being rushed to the hospital and swiftly being administered morphia and two pints of blood donated by a nurse who was a blood match; that nurse turned out to be his wife, whom he had only been married for a few months, she was carrying their unborn child.

Despite the best efforts of medics Scarf slipped away whilst in surgery but in the chaos of the Battle of Malaya – and eventual Fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942 – it would be over four years until his widow would be presented with the Victoria Cross by King George VI.

His was truly the V.C. that represented the ‘Forgotten War’.

The two other crewmen from Scarf’s Blenheim were also given awards after the war for their courage during the action; Sergeant (later Squadron Leader) Paddy Calder was awarded a Distinguished Flying Medal and Sergeant Cyril Rich (killed in action in 1943) received a posthumous mention in Despatches.

When you consider the incredible bravery involved in winning the medal, perhaps £660,000 is a small price to pay.

Does ‘Viking DNA’ stoke division and excuse violence?

Fascinating new research into the increasing use of home DNA testing kits has revealed that those claiming Viking DNA could foster unhealthy ideas of genetic pre-determinism.

The study, called ‘I am a Viking! DNA, popular culture and the construction of geneticized identity’, published in the journal ‘New Genetics and Society: Critical Studies of Contemporary Biosciences’, was conducted by Sweden-based academics Anna Källén, of Stockholm University and Daniel Strand, of Uppsala University.

The paper’s abstract read: “In this article, we analyse how genetic genealogy reshapes popular notions of historical identity, as it facilitates a genetically informed understanding of ethnicity and ancestry.

“Drawing on interviews with Swedish, British and American individuals who have employed genetic ancestry tests (GATs) to prove ancestral connections to Vikings, we explore how the desire to ‘be a Viking’ is articulated through a convergence of pre-existing discourses around Vikings and DNA.

“By combining signs from genetic science and popular depictions of Vikings, our interviewees create a new discourse of geneticised Viking identity.

“In this new discourse, socio-historically constructed ideas about Vikings are naturalised as the innate qualities of individuals who possess a certain genetic composition.

“Images of ‘the Viking’ once created for political, cultural or commercial purposes are revived in new embodied forms and can start to circulate in new social contexts, where they, by association, appear to be confirmed by genetical science.”

Anna Källén expanded on the theme, in an article in The Conversation, where she mentioned the unhealthy obsession with so-called ‘Viking DNA’ and it’s social consequences.

She wrote: “In our new study, we carried out interviews with people from the US, the UK and Sweden who had purchased genetic ancestry tests to see if they were related to Vikings.

“Since the test results did not include the term ‘Viking’, most of them pointed to the category ‘Scandinavia’ in their ethnic charts as proof of having Viking ancestry.

“Almost all of the people in our study saw their results as scientific confirmation of either ‘being related to Vikings’ or of actually ‘being a Viking’.

“As a man from the US put it, the results ‘began to confirm or at least lay the basis for the person that I am.’

“In a similar way, a woman from Sweden said that her test allowed her to ‘know who I am and what my origins are’.

“However, what the tests actually proved was based on creative interpretation. In this sense, several of our interviewees took images of ‘the Viking’ fostered in popular culture and political propaganda, and used them to make sense of their own lives.”

She added: “For example, people with experiences of violence and abuse used their ‘Viking genes’ as explanation – describing Vikings as warriors and berserkers. ‘Knowing that I am descended from Vikings,’ a man from the US said, ‘has made it clearer to me why there might be a genetic preponderance of violence and explosive anger in my family.’

“In a similar way, interviewees who considered themselves to be restless described the Vikings as explorers and naval engineers.

“A woman from the US said: ‘I have to see new lands,’ adding that it was due to ‘the Viking’ in her.”

The academic said that it seemed that the use of genetic ancestry tests can facilitate a kind of “genetic determinism”, in which a person’s life is the natural result of their genome.

She said: “From this perspective, humans appear to not have much control over their lives.

“By dividing people into racial or national categories, genetic ancestry tests might be used to trigger tensions between different groups.

“Even if a person’s ‘Viking DNA’ only amounts to a small amount, it can still provide an allegedly scientific basis for racial division.”

She concluded: “In an era marked by increasing xenophobia and ethnic chauvinism, it is important to be aware of the interplay between genetics and ideas about race.”

On a personal note I know I was pleased to find a reasonable amount of Scandinavian DNA in my own Ancestry DNA results and I did automatically assume Viking lineage.

So, is this just harmless fun and general historical interest, or could it have a darker side?

Stone Age hunter-gatherer slate rings: The oldest currency or bands of friendship or ritual?

Around 6,000 years ago, hunter-gatherer communities in northeast Europe produced skillfully manufactured slate ring ornaments in great numbers.

While these ornaments are commonly referred to as ‘slate rings’, they were rarely used as intact rings.

Instead, the ornaments were fragmented on purpose, using pieces of rings as tokens. These fragments were further processed into pendants.

According to new research from the University of Helsinki, in Finland, the fragments were deliberately broken and most likely served as symbols of the social relations of Stone Age hunter-gatherers.

As most archaeological material is found in a fragmented state, the phenomenon has been considered a natural consequence of objects’ having been long buried underground.

However, according to Postdoctoral Researcher Marja Ahola from the University of Helsinki, not all objects have necessarily been broken by accident.

Instead, it is possible some were fragmented on purpose as part of maintaining social relations, bartering or ritual activities.

New research could demonstrate a widespread Stone Age exchange network.

With a substantial number of ornaments found in central locations of what is now Finland.

As some of the ornaments originate in the Lake Onega region and have been transported to Finland it is possible that they symbolise cordial connections established within the network.

By matching pieces of slate ring ornaments, analysing their geochemical composition and investigating traces of use and manufacture in the objects, a research group at the University of Helsinki and the University of Turku demonstrated that the ornaments had not only been worn, but also intentionally broken.

Because fragments from the same ornament were found in two different locations, it is possible that they were worn by two different individuals.

Another indication of this is the fact that one of the fragments had been worked on more finely than the other.

Marja Ahola said: “These fragments of the same object may show the handprint and preferences of two individuals.

“Perhaps they wore the ornaments as a symbol of a connection established.”

A similar link was found in slate ring ornaments created during the same manufacturing process, one of which was found in a settlement-site context and the other in a burial site investigated near the settlement.

Ahold added: “What we see here may be one way of maintaining connection between the living and the dead.

“This is also the first clear material connection between a certain place of residence and a burial site.

“In other words, the people who lived there most likely buried their dead in a site close to them.”

An X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF) of a little over 50 slate ring ornaments demonstrated that some of the ornaments or fragments thereof had been imported from the Lake Onega region, Russia, hundreds of kilometres from the site where they were found.

XRF analyses can be used to determine the element concentrations and raw materials of inorganic archaeological materials with a very high precision.

The technique can be applied as an entirely non-invasive surface analysis, which makes it perfectly suited to the study of archaeological objects.

Docent Elisabeth Holmqvist-Sipilä said: “By comparing the elemental concentrations of the objects under investigation with findings published on the basis of international datasets, we were able to demonstrate that some of the ornaments or the stone material used in them was transported to Finland through an extensive exchange network, primarily from the Lake Onega region.

“There was also variation in the chemical composition of the objects, which correlates with their design.

“These factors indicate that the ornaments were produced at Lake Onega region in several batches, most likely in different locations and by a number of makers.”

Stonehenge still threatened as new tunnel consultation launches

Stonehenge still faces an uncertain future as a fresh consultation was launched by the UK Government on its plans to build a road tunnel nearby.

The latest twist came after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps received updated information on the scheme’s carbon impact.

National Highways has submitted a report on its calculation of operational and construction-linked CO2 emissions.

The updated documents claim that the cumulative effects of greenhouse gas emissions from the scheme have decreased compared with previous estimates in 2018.

National Highways measured the impact using the current version of the National Highways Carbon Tool.

It put the decreases in construction carbon emissions down to “a change in GHG (greenhouse gas) emission factors” and it explained lower road user emissions because of “the projected uptake of electric vehicles up to 2050”.

The £1.7bn scheme would involve the construction of a new 12.8km two-lane dual carriageway, with a 3.2km tunnel, for the A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down, in Wiltshire – very close to the Neolithic World Heritage Site.

The High Court quashed the Transport Secretary’s decision to allow development consent for the scheme last July.

The decision was seen as a welcome victory for campaigners from the group Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site.

But, unfortunately, the plans are still lingering.

The scheme, if it goes ahead, is thought likely to cause considerable harm to the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, which includes the historic landscape around the iconic monument.

Following the court’s judgement that the development consent order was “unlawful”, Mr Shapps and the Government are now “redetermining” the application.

Interested parties have until 10 June to make their feelings known on the updated environmental information.

A link to this document, which includes relevant contact details, is here.

Stonehenge Mesolithic landscape BEFORE the stone circle revealed

A new study has revealed the incredibly ancient pre-stone circle landscape, upon which Stonehenge now stands.

New research by the University of Southampton has plotted the Mesolithic environment of the now Salisbury Plain, 4,000 years prior to the construction of the world famous sarsen and bluestone monument.

A team of academics explored Blick Mead, a Mesolithic archaeological site within a chalkland spring area about a mile from Stonehenge.

They discovered evidence that the landscape was not covered in dense, closed canopy forests during the later Mesolithic period, as was previously theorised.

Instead, it was only partially wooded and was a grazing ground for huge bovine aurochs, red deer, elk and wild boar.

This would have made it an attractive hunting ground for ancient human hunter-gatherers, before the arrival of the Neolithic farmers, who would go in to build Stonehenge and a host of similar monuments.

Lead researcher, Samuel Hudson, of Geography and Environmental Science at Southampton said: “There has been intensive study of the Bronze Age and Neolithic history of the Stonehenge landscape, but less is known about earlier periods.

“The integration of evidence recovered from previous excavations at Blick Mead, coupled with our own fieldwork, allowed us to understand more about the flora and fauna of the landscape prior to construction of the later world-famous monument complex.”

He added: “Past theories suggest the area was thickly wooded and cleared in later periods for farming and monument building.

“However, our research points to pre-Neolithic, hunting-gatherer inhabitants, living in open woodland, which supported aurochs and other grazing herbivores.”

The researchers studied pollen, fungal spores and traces of DNA preserved in ancient sediment, alongside optically stimulated luminescence and radiocarbon dating to map an environmental history of the site. 

Their findings enabled them to produce a picture of the habitat in the area from the later Mesolithic (5500 BC) to the Neolithic (from 4,000 BC).

The research indicates that later Mesolithic populations at Blick Mead used the open and expansive conditions to repeatedly exploit groups of large ungulates (hoofed mammals), until a transition to an agrarian and monument-building society took place.

These practices over the centuries made the site perfect for the construction of the breathtaking megalithic site and other large-scale monument building, as the land was pre-cleared.

The team suggested there was continuity between the inhabitants of the two eras, who used the land in different ways, but understood it to be a favourable location.

I would note that the lingering presence of the hunter-gatherer caste, which was revered in similar and broadly contemporary Neolithic sites, like Newgrange, in Ireland, may have also rendered the location one of ritual or spiritual significance.

The hunt was of supreme importance, not just for survival, but for religion, with Mesolithic societies donning horned headgear as part of shamanic-style worship.

The conclusions of the team from Southampton, working with colleagues at the universities of Buckingham, Tromsø and Salzburg, are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The team is now planning further exploration of the Mesolithic history of the area, which they hope to begin at the end of this year.

Are Vikings really ‘winning the culture war’?

An interesting article appeared in the British magazine The Spectator this week, which made the claim that Vikings were “winning the culture war”.

For those unfamiliar with the publication, The Spectator is the oldest English-language magazine in the world and is often at the leading edge of national and international political and cultural conversations. So this article is meaningful in terms of where the Norse raiders currently are in the cultural zeitgeist.

In it author Ed West reproduced one of his Substack posts where he looked at the modern obsession with the Northmen and sought to explain why this was happening.

(Links to the Spectator article and original Substack post are in this paragraph.)

So, what did the article say?

Well Mr West begins by recounting the horrific treatment of a sacrifice victim, as reported to his masters at the Abbasid Caliphate, in Baghdad, by the Arabic diplomat Ahmad ibn Fadlan from the year 922.

This is to, presumably, demonstrate the brutality and backwardness of this Northern European pagans in contrast with the monotheistic Muslims of the Arab world at the time.

This theme continues throughout, when the Norse are contrasted with Anglo-Saxon and Frankish Christians – although the author does allow himself to criticise Charlemagne for his promiscuity and brutality in converting the Germanic peoples at the point of a sword.

There is no mention of the outrage of the destruction of the continental Saxons’ sacred Irminsul tree, by the Holy Roman Emperor’s forces during the Saxon Wars, though.

He cites the new Robert Eggers film They Northman’ as an example of the gratuitous violence and ritual murder of the Scandinavians at this time, which reflects the account ibn Fadlan made.

So why does Mr West believe Vikings are winning the culture war?

Two main themes are at the root of his contention: modern-day attitudes to sex and TV and movie audiences’ seemingly voracious appetite for Viking-based content.

West wrote of the allure of Christianity and the Viking defeat in the original, Medieval, culture war: “… being linked to a wider European civilisation and far more literate, had immense advantages and would win, despite their belief in peace and male sexual restraint being so weirdly counter-intuitive.

“The losing polytheists had their worldview confined to history as Christianity swept across Scandinavia.

“Yet today the Norsemen, or Vikings (a historically imperfect but impossibly attractive term) are themselves embroiled in a new culture war. And this time they might win, from beyond the grave.

“The Northman is part of a wider Viking cultural renaissance of recent years, with The Last Kingdom, the adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s book series; the Netflix show Vikings, as well as three Thor films, a fourth coming out this summer.”

Where West believes sex has a role in this new phenomenon is in the apparently free and easy attitude the Norse had in this regard.

He contrasted this with traditional Victorian values, which harked back to the alleged morality of Alfred the Great of Wessex.

He wrote: “The fact that Alfred was tormented by sexual desires, which he prayed to God to free him from, made him all the more virtuous and relatable to Victorians. He was a hero for a pre-ironic age.

“Today such an internal sexual struggle is looked down upon, seen as unhealthy and hypocritical, positively weird. English nationalism is worthy only of thralls.”

To prove the Norse we’re comfortable being promiscuous he wrote: “The behaviour of Freyja, the goddess who represented womanhood in Norse mythology, is illustrative; she took many lovers, and is said to have slept with every elf in Asgard, without any sense of shame.

“To many post-Christians there is huge attraction to such a society. Sympathetic historians point out the prejudices of sexually-frustrated Medieval monks whose lack of a healthy outlet resulted in lurid fantasies about pagan behaviour, as well as misogyny.”

Is Freyja really the benchmark upon which Norse women should be judged – I think not and there is little real substance to the notion of the freewheeling, bed-hopping, town-raiding shield maiden.

On occasions when women did accompany men on raids, they were unlikely to be involved in any of the fighting, and would have been restricted to provisioning the warriors or, potentially, performing rituals and magic to aid the menfolk.

And does ubiquity really represent victory?

The Northman faced a barrage of criticism from those on the left for it’s realistic portrayal of gender roles in Norse society, and its historically-accurate casting choices, which only featured white actors.

The same cannot be said of TV shows like ‘Vikings’, the spin-off ‘Vikings: Valhalla’ and ‘The Last Kingdom’, which have featured a number of female warrior characters and more diverse casting.

So are Vikings really winning a culture war – or have they been subsumed and conquered by it?

Furthermore, it is bizarre to use the Marvel franchise’s ‘Thor’ films as evidence of a Viking victory in the so called culture war.

There are many things one can say about these, but that they are a fair and accurate portrayal of Norse history is not one of them.

Yes, nominally Viking-connected content is currently popular, but if these shows and films are inaccurate caricatures of the real history, often with the addition of plot themes based on modern day social issues, is this really a win for them?

I suppose there is a chance that, after watching these shows, people may seek out the Eddas or study the history of the Vikings and their precursor Bronze Age traditions.

And it is certainly true that books on Vikings are also popular, but these are sometimes fairly revisionist efforts, aiming to amp up controversial new theories to ensure often sensationalist media coverage and generate book sales.

I think in reality Norse history and mythology is a rich source of story and intrigue for unimaginative TV and movie execs to plunder. It is the Vikings who are now being raided – and that doesn’t sound like a victory to me.

May Day, Robin Hood, Maid Marian… and Merlin

Robin Hood and his legendary wife Maid Marian began as separate folkloric entities and were strongly associated with May Day customs.

May Day itself has pagan origins and centres around abundance and vegetation as the start of the summer. With the Beltane festival seen as a fire blessing of cattle and other livestock.

This, in turn, had similarities to the Roman festival of Floralia, a celebration of the goddess of flowers, and Maiouma, which hailed Dionysus and Aphrodite.

This highlights that these ceremonies and rituals, such as the Queen of the May and dancing around the, clearly phallic, maypole have echoes of fertility rites that are truly ancient and inextricably wedded to nature.

There are many tellings, re-tellings and embellishments of the Robin legend. But his woodland dwelling after a fall from grace of some kind mirrors the tale of Merlin, or Myrddin Wilt, and his retreat to the forest.

The ‘Vita Merlini’, or ‘Life of Merlin’, strongly thought to have been penned by Geoffrey of Monmouth in around 1150, details how this occurred.

His hermit-like existence in the wilderness was as a result of what we might now call post-traumatic stress disorder where he struggled to come to terms with a brutal battle.

This conflict has been suggested to have been the Battle if Afderydd, where the King of Alt Clut, otherwise known as Strathclyde, inflicted a crushing defeat on the forces of Gwenddolau.

Myrddin was said to have been driven mad after witnessing the slaughter which, according to the Annals of Wales, took place in the year 573 AD.

Whether this tale contributed to the Robin Hood legend is not certain, but the parallels are there.

Whatever the connection, or lack thereof, happy May Day to all.

Did Ancient Greeks beat Leif Erikson and Vikings to North America by 1,000 years?

The fanciful idea that the Ancient Greeks travelled to the Americas has resurfaced again in a number of Hellenic publications.

Based on some passages from the far later – and Roman – historian Plutarch in his ‘De Facie’, researchers believe Greek sailors made the treacherous transatlantic crossing in their Triremes under sail and oar power, some 1,000 or more years before Leif Erikson’s voyage and nearly 1,500 years before Columbus crossed the ocean.

They cited evidence to show how these unlikely – and recurrent – voyages could have happened.

So, this post will look at that evidence and the historical sources to see how likely it was.

The research, by Ioannis Liritzis, an archaeologist at the University of the Aegean and colleagues, is explained in the paper ‘Does astronomical and geographical information of Plutarch’s De Facie describe a trip beyond the North Atlantic Ocean?’.

It was originally published in the Journal of Coastal Research, in 2018.

The paper’s abstract reads: “In Plutarch’s book On the Apparent Face in the Orb of the Moon, the interlocutors develop a dialogue about a trip to the ‘great continent’ beyond the North Atlantic Ocean. By applying modern scientific data, the present reappraisal of the astronomical and geographical elements within this dialogue has produced a novel interpretation of the date and place of the meeting and a journey to the northern Atlantic Ocean.

“A described solar eclipse is dated to AD 75, making use of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)/Espenak/Meeus list, as well as historical information. The described peculiar, recurrent trips take place every 30 years (when the planet Saturn reaches the Taurus constellation) from the Mediterranean Sea to the Cronian Open Sea, which is identified with northern Atlantic Ocean coasts.

“It has been suggested that the last mission had returned homeland in April AD 56. The information provided concerns, distances between coastal sites and islands, duration of sea paths in days, and the reported setting and size between the destination place and its gulf with regards to Azov (in Crimea) and the Caspian Sea.

“Implications of sea currents and the coastal geomorphology of those lands are given. Following strictly the Gulf Stream current, as well as other known sea currents in the northern Atlantic Ocean, and introducing estimated speed for the ship, the geographical location of destination of the Greek settlers is proposedly identified with St. Lawrence Gulf and Newfoundland island.

“Other unnamed islands mentioned in this dialogue are identified with Norway’s islands, Azores, Iceland, Greenland, and Baffin islands.

“It has been shown that the journey is made with good knowledge of sea currents, but by using bright stars and stellar configurations as astronomical nightscape markers that determine the exact orientation of the sailing toward the Iberian Peninsula and back to the eastern Mediterranean, making the current working hypothesis a plausible event.”

The researchers believe the evidence shows that temporary outposts were set up by Greeks in the New World, where they mined gold.

The source for this hypothesis – Plutarch’s ‘De Facie’ features Socratic style dialogues between a number of characters.

In it they discuss whether the moon is another Earth, whether there is life on the moon, and other philosophical questions.

A character recounts meeting a stranger who had recently returned from a long voyage to a distant “great continent.”

According to the character, new travellers would make the trip to this far off land around every 30 years, when the planet Saturn appeared in the constellation Taurus.

Some were said to have remained behind on the continent and some would have returned.

Based on this and astronomical research, Liritzis and his fellow academics claimed that this mystery great continent was North America.

In the paper, the researchers claimed that the Greeks could have used their intricate knowledge of astronomy to pinpoint the locations of Atlantic currents that could have carried them westwards to the New World.

Hector Williams, a professor of classical archaeology at the University of British Columbia, played down the possibility of Greek sailors reaching the continent – at least on purpose.

He said: “While accidental pre-Columbian crossings are not impossible for Greeks and (more likely) Romans who were caught in a storm while on the coast of western Europe, there is no evidence for regular crossings.

“Even the Vikings gave up their brief settlement in Newfoundland after a few years.”

This was in no small part due to conflict with the Native American inhabitants, whom the Norse settlers referred to as Skraelings.

But these factors appear to have left the research team undeterred.

Let us turn to the father of Greek history, Herodotus, for the more likely extent of Ancient Greek knowledge.

Herodotus (c. 484 to c. 425 BC) wrote of the mythical Hyperborea and of the British Isles, which were referred to as the Tin Islands, in reference to the abundance of the metal in the islands. Tin was of paramount importance to the Greeks in the manufacture of Bronze Age weapons and other items.

In his ‘The Histories’, written in 430 BC, he wrote of the Tin Islands and north-western Europe: ““About the far west of Europe I have no definite information, for I cannot accept the story of a river called by non-Greek peoples the Eridanus, which flows into the northern sea, where amber is supposed to come from; nor do I know anything of the existence of islands called the Tin Islands, whence we get our tin. In the first place, the name Eridanus is obviously not foreign but Greek, and was invented by some poet or other; and, secondly, in spite of my efforts to do so, I have never found anyone who could give me first-hand information of the existence of a sea beyond Europe to the north and west. Yet it cannot be disputed that tin and amber do come to us from what we might call the ends of the earth.

“It is clear that it is the northern parts of Europe which are richest in gold, but how it is procured I cannot say exactly. The story goes that the one-eyed Arimaspians steal it from the griffins who guard it; personally, however, I refuse to believe in one-eyed men who in other respects are like the rest of men. In any case it does seem to be true that the countries which lie on the circumference of the inhabited world produce the things which we believe to be most rare and beautiful.”

Further considering the lands to the north of the Hellenic world, he recalled a poem by Aristeas and wrote of the mythical Hyperborea: “Beyond the Issedones live the one-eyed Arimaspians, and beyond them the griffins which guard the gold, and beyond the griffins the Hyperboreans, whose land comes down to the sea.

“All these, except the Hyperboreans, were continually encroaching upon one another’s territory, beginning with the Arimaspians, so that the Issedones were expelled by the Arimaspians, the Scythians by the Issedones, and the Cimmerians by the Scythians, who forced them from their homes along the shores of the Black Sea.”

Later, in the same source, he added: “Of the Hyperboreans we get no information from the Scythians or anyone else in that part of the world, except, perhaps, from the Issedones.

“Not that the Issedones really tell us anything, in my opinion; for if they did, we should have it from the Scythians too, like the story of the one-eyed men.”

He also recounted a story about an alleged Hyperborean traveller called Abaris.

John Wood the elder, an eighteenth century architect based in the ancient city of Bath, in England, suggested that Abaris, who was a healer, could have been Bladud, mythical Celtic king of the Britons.

The outlandish theory is light on evidence, but raises the prospect of Britain being the fabled Hyperborea of Classical Greek legend.

Despite ‘The Histories’ being very much a product of its time and, therefore, featuring outlandish mythological entities, it would make sense for Herodotus to include reference to a great continent to the west.

But no such mention is made – even among descriptions of one-eyed warriors, griffins and other odd creatures throughout the text.

Oddly enough the association of griffins with Scythia May have a ring of truth.

This is despite the fact that griffins are fantastical and mythological beasts, albeit ones that have persisted across the western world in heraldic iconography and dating back thousands of years in Classical stories.

Legends of griffins were borne out, to some degree, by the discovery of fossilised remains of protoceratops dinosaurs in what was Scythia.

These extinct reptiles were smaller and non-horned relatives of the perhaps better-known triceratops.

Folklorist Adrienne Mayor, of Stanford University, pointed to highly preserved fossil skeletons of protoceratops dinosaurs, which were discovered by ancient nomadic Scythians.

These startling beaked skeletons would rightly have left the finders unable to explain their discovery and reaching, inevitably, for monsters to understand them.

They could easily have appeared as having a bird-like head, and hindquarters of a lion, as the classic griffin form is presented.

The presence of Hyperborea being close to Scythia could also be seen as an allusion, or folk memory, to the Proto-Indo-European homeland in the Steppe, near Scythia.

So, Herodotus writes at length about what lies to the north and the east of the Greek world, but is very scant on detail of what may be to the west.

So, do you think ancient Greeks made it to North America?