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.

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.”

The mysterious old barn ‘built using wood from the Pilgrim Fathers’ ship The Mayflower’

Welcome to the historic Quaker village of Jordans, deep in the Buckinghamshire countryside.

The village proper lies down a road with an earlier allusion to religious practices – Seer Green Lane – and it is a picturesque place, with a large village green and a quaint little shop selling all manner of necessities including, fittingly, Quaker Oats porridge.

But at the other end of the lane and along a fairly busy main road is a mysterious, and now privately owned, barn with a fascinating history.

The barn, which dates to around the early 17th century, now lies towards the front of a private estate and appears unremarkable.

But it was once at the centre of a media sensation.

This furore, which saw visitors flock to the site from as far afield as the United States, was because an Englishman, James Rendel Harris, had claimed to have discovered within it the last resting place of the Mayflower.

The Mayflower was the English ship that transported a group of English families, religious outcasts, that became known to history as the Pilgrim Fathers, from England to the New World in 1620.

After a gruelling ten-week voyage, the Mayflower, with 102 passengers and a crew of about 30, reached America, dropping anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on November 21, 1620.

The American national holiday of Thanksgiving derives from the first Thanksgiving feast held by the Pilgrims in 1621.

The event was a prayer event and dinner to mark the first harvest of the settlers.

With this in mind the final resting place of the ship has huge cultural and historical significance in the story of the birth of America.

Harris believed that timbers from the famous vessel had been used in the construction of the barn in Old Jordans.

His claim was that he had been attending a funeral in the area when a man told him of the incredible construction material.

With interested parties wanting to verify the story, mystery descended as Harris was suddenly unable to trace the man who had relayed the story to him.

He conducted an investigation and his research was said to have revealed that local farmers, who had shares in the Mayflower in the 17th century, may have received its timbers after it was broken up.

Harris put this information together with details from the Plymouth Colony’s first governor, William Bradford.

Harris was a senior member of the local Quaker community and a leading figure within the English Mayflower Club, and an author of Mayflower plays.

So was this an embellishment, or an outright hoax perpetrated by a man with a keen interest in the subject, or a happy coincidence?

As the 300th anniversary of the voyage drew closer in the run up to 1920 the ‘Mayflower Barn’, as the building was dubbed, caused a sensation.

The story gained such credence that, during the Second World War, wood from the rafters was used to create a ‘Mayflower medal’ for Winston Churchill to give to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Before this, in 1921, the Quakers presented part of one of the timbers to Samuel Hills (an American Quaker), who placed it in a chest inside the Pacific Highway Association Peace Portal (today Arch) on the boundary of the USA and Canada.

Whatever the truth of the claims, the area has another connection to the birth of the entity that would become the USA, as nearby lies the grave of William Penn, founder of the Province of Pennsylvania.

So, do you believe the story or is this merely a hoax by an eccentric obsessive?

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.

Noah’s Great Flood: Does mountain in Bulgaria prove it happened?

The story the great flood, which in the Judeo-Christian sphere, is associated with Noah’s Ark, is an almost universal archetype.

Tales exist not just in the Bible, but in Hindu, Sumerian and Chinese folklore. The story also appears in the Epic of Gilgamesh and in Native American folklore.

One might also consider the scant references, from Plato, of the mythical disappearance of Atlantis beneath the waves.

Was this rendition an allegorical injunction against hubris, or a kernel of truth from a dim and distant past at the dawn of human society?

The only primary sources for Atlantis are Plato’s dialogues Timaeus and Critias.

The dialogues claim to quote the Athenian lawmaker Solon, who visited sacred Egyptian sites between 590 and 580 BC.

The story goes that he translated Egyptian records of Atlantis.

Writing in 360 BC, around 200 years after the death of Solon, Plato introduced Atlantis in Timaeus.

He wrote: “For it is related in our records how once upon a time your State stayed the course of a mighty host, which, starting from a distant point in the Atlantic ocean, was insolently advancing to attack the whole of Europe, and Asia to boot.

“For the ocean there was at that time navigable; for in front of the mouth which you Greeks call, as you say, ‘the pillars of Heracles,’ there lay an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together; and it was possible for the travellers of that time to cross from it to the other islands, and from the islands to the whole of the continent over against them which encompasses that veritable ocean.

“For all that we have here, lying within the mouth of which we speak, is evidently a haven having a narrow entrance; but that yonder is a real ocean, and the land surrounding it may most rightly be called, in the fullest and truest sense, a continent.

“Now in this island of Atlantis there existed a confederation of kings, of great and marvellous power, which held sway over all the island, and over many other islands also and parts of the continent.”

It seems the Atlanteans had got too big for their boots in attacking and conquering other lands and were ultimately brought low by a series of natural disasters following a war between the empire of Atlantis and the nations that lay inside the pillars of Hercules, thought by many to refer to the Straight of Gibraltar.

This cataclysmic battle and subsequent disastrous reckoning was said to have taken place 9,000 years before Plato’s Socratic character Critias’ lifetime.

On the destruction and deluge that swallowed the continent, Critias said: “But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.

“For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.”

In the Biblical sense, the Book of Genesis, chapter 6, verse 17, reads: “And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.”

But what is the truth, if any, of this alleged divine retribution?

Some researchers argue there was an ancient Black Sea flood, which could – with a few millennia of embellishment – match the level of devastation described.

Although doubts remain, as this location is nowhere near Gibraltar.

However it is only a problem in my own conflation of the great flood and the sinking of Atlantis.

So, leaving that aside for a moment, let us look at the evidence for the Black Sea being the location of the great flood.

In Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, just outside the city centre, en route to the airport, is the majestic volcanic Mount Vitosha, which features a number of caves.

It is in this fascinating geological warren, which is the longest subterranean cave complex in Bulgaria, that Professor Yavor Shopov, of Sofia University, found the evidence he claims proves that the great flood was real.

He pointed to ancient residue in one particular cave, in the form of stalagmites and stalactites, to substantiate his theory.

He said: “All these stalagmites and stalactites, they are formed as a result of rainwater passing through the bedrock.”

Like tree rings he says he was able to calculate rainfall levels going back thousands of years. One layer, in the sequence was found to be far thicker than any of the others.

Professor Shopov said: “It has been formed 7,500 years ago. And there was fifty times present day precipitation. We have a special theory about this.”

He demonstrated the theory using a cross section of one of the stone formations. In one of the bands of sediment there was evidence of a massive increase in rainfall.

The academic claims this could be the result of an impact of a heavenly body on the sun.

“If a very large asteroid would fall directly on the surface of the sun,” he said.

The professor argues the impact of an asteroid, measuring around two to three kilometres in radius, caused a huge increase in solar radiation – known as a solar flare.

Professor Shopov says that after the impact there would be a rapid rise in the Earth’s temperature causing huge seawater evaporation and leading to a massive increase in rainfall.

“That’s the kind of event which is described in the historical sources,” he said.

He added: “There are really not so many asteroids so big, so that’s why, hopefully, this kind of event may happen quite rarely.”

Others point to a Black Sea flood at the end of the last Ice Age, with melting ice causing a drastic increase in sea levels.

Mediterranean seawater rapidly flowed through the Bosphorus creating the Black Sea from a previous freshwater lake.

Professor Petko Dimitrov of the Institute of Oceanology – Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, in Varna, said: “The first evidence for the Black Sea flood are the old shorelines found in the Black Sea basin. This ancient shoreline lies at around 90 to 120 metres deep.”

He analysed core samples from the seabed and found the remains of shells and plankton that could not have lived in saltwater.

It was suggested that Neolithic settlements on the original banks of the body of water were submerged and destroyed by the rising water levels.

In 2011, researcher Konstantin Chterev led a team that carried out surveys in the Black Sea.

One probe was dredged up and contained pieces of wood that Chterev claims were from a drowned Neolithic settlement.

He said: “There’s no way these pieces of wood could be from a ship or something there’s no way [for them] to be there, except [if] there’s an ancient village or something at that depth.”

Professor Dimitrov and colleagues even claim to be confident of one day finding Noah’s Ark in the Black Sea.

In a 2006 paper called ‘The Flood in the Black Sea – Science and Mythology’ the team wrote: “Juxtaposing the data from the Black Sea’s natural events and archaeo-mythology, as well as the legend of Noah’s ark, we can claim with a high degree of reliability that the remains of the ark are located within the Black Sea bottom.

“They are situated at contemporary depths of about 40m, where Noah’s ship anchored after the flood.

“During the last 8,000 years, the remains of the ship and Noah’s grave have been covered with alluvial and marine silts.

“The discovery of the remains is a task of high priority for modern marine archaeology. The restoration of deepwater geo-archaeological exploration is not only a matter of prestige for marine science, but also an important criterion for clarifying a key page of the most ancient human history that transpired in our lands.”

Archaeology could also point to an advanced Black Sea civilisation.

The intricate and mathematically detailed objects in the horde, known as the Varna Necropolis Gold, is more than 6,000 years old and could represent evidence of the oldest European civilisation.

It is theorised that the civilisation was devastated by the flood, but refugees migrated to other places taking their knowledge and stories of the flood with them, leading to ancient Egyptian, Greek and Sumerian civilisations more than one thousand years later.

This could be the genesis of the legend of Atlantis or, at least, the central truth of the far-reaching great flood myth.

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?

Is this the home of King Arthur’s Lady of the Lake?

Is this body of water in Cornwall the home of the mythical Lady if the Lake?

The lake is Dozmary Pool, on Bodmin Moor, one of the sources of the River Fowey.

The lake has been significant to people since prehistory, with the antiquarian and folklorist Sabine Baring-Gould saying it was abundant in fish and surrounded by numerous remains of Stone Age flint working.

Dozmary Pool is one site that is claimed to be the watery residence of the Lady of the Lake.

According to legend Arthur, King of the Britons, rowed out to the Lady of the Lake, sometimes called Nimue, and received the magical sword Excalibur at Dozmary Pool.

After Arthur was mortally wounded, at the Battle of Camlann, the blade was said to have been returned to the water by Bedivere.

The act of deposition of sacred or valuable objects – particularly arms – alluded to in the legend recalls very real religious and cultural practices.

At the time Arthur is supposed to have lived there were still practitioners of Druidic belief or at least knowledge of them.

Added to this there is also the possibility that Merlin described, perhaps colloquially or cryptically, as a ‘bard’, was a Druid.

Druids, known to the Classical World from the 4th century BC, could have continued traditions and practices from as far back as the second and third millennia BC.

In this context deposition to the Chthonic deities took place in the earth, or bodies of water.

Examples of earth deposition include pits at Woodhenge or Durrington Walls, near Stonehenge, or the stone circle and henge at Avebury.

The concept can be seen as being continued into the Bronze and Iron Ages in the form of grave goods deposited in burial mounds.

Objects deliberately placed in water include the ornate Battersea Shield and the Waterloo Bridge Helmet, as well as the far older Dagenham Idol.

The deposition of votive objects and also defixiones, or requests for divine damnation of enemies, also took place at the sacred waters of Bath.

These were offerings or appeals to the deity Sulis, later amalgamated with the Roman goddess Minerva, to form the compound deity Sulis-Minerva, via the process of ‘interpretatio Romana’.

A rich earth deposition was discovered in Folly Lane, St Albans, Hertfordshire, in 1991-92, which was part of the burial rites of a late Iron Age Catevellauni chieftain.

The complexity of the funerary chamber, burial mound and enclosure at the site pointed to complicated rituals having taken place. It was determined the site was the tomb of a client king who died in the years immediately following the Rome’s invasion of Britain, in AD 43.

Treasures discovered with the cremated body included enamelled horse equipment, a chariot, a tunic of iron mail armour and at least 15lbs of silver. 

It was said that all the grave goods were burned on the funeral pyre with the body.

David Thorold, Curator, Pre-historic to Medieval at Verulamium Museum, said of the discovery: “The whole site is exceptional; the evidence of an elaborate ritual, the imposing character of the enclosure and its position overlooking the Roman town, the wealth of the grave goods and the fact that a Romano-Celtic temple was subsequently built on the site of the funeral pyre, are all proof that the rites and ceremonies performed here were of overwhelming significance to the local population.”

Returning to Dozmary Pool, it is clear this atmospheric location within the ruggedly beautiful Bodmin Moor is the kind of place that should attract association with legends.

And, so it is, that the lake is also linked to a sinister deal with the Devil.

The tall tale goes that Jan Treageagle, a 17th century steward and cruel magistrate under the Duchy of Cornwall, was on the trail of deviant activities and made a so-called Faustian pact with Satan to gain wealth and influence.

The deal dictated that on his death Treageagle would be damned to forever attempt to empty the allegedly bottomless Dozmary Pool with a leaky limpet shell.

But in death, as in life, Treageagle was not a man to discharge his duties faithfully.

He was said to have escaped from his endless task fleeing to Roche Rock with demons giving chase, before being set another impossible task.

This time he had to weave ropes from sand. Tales abound that Treageagle’s tormented ghost still wails across Bodmin Moor.

Whatever the truth or allegory of these tales their very existence proves a spiritual and potentially historical significance for this eerie place.

Is it the home to the Lady of the Lake? Who knows, but it’s as good as any.

Exploring ancient Roman ‘vampire’ graves and an abandoned church

Welcome to Fleet Marston.

This small dwelling close to Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire has come to prominence recently after it was revealed to hold a dark secret.

Previously I made a post on an incredible Roman-era discovery at the site, which included a number of decapitated skeletons and other artefacts.

My contention is that these unfortunate bodies may have belonged to suspected vampires.

The Romans and other classical civilisations, like the Ancient Greeks, believed in entities known as strix or strigoi.

These mythological beings continued into Slavic folklore as the strzyga.

Archaeologists working alongside railway workers , building the new HS2 high-speed rail link in England, have unearthed a number of intriguing finds recently.

At or close to Fleet Marston 425 burials were unearthed at a Roman cemetery.

But it was the manner in which 40 skeletons were discovered that made me consider a dark possibility.

To the Romans Britannia was a mystical and terrifying place. A land of strange people and rituals and maybe even giants.

Therefore it is not inconceivable that, in the superstitious mind of the Roman conquerors, there were otherworldly entities abound in this far-flung peripheral part of the Empire.

And it is with that in mind that the bizarre nature of the burials administered to those 40 skeletons comes into sharp focus.

Burial was even more significant in the bronze and iron ages, with grave goods attesting the idea that the dead were going on a journey.

It is clear that the people who buried the 40 bodies were keen to ensure that this would not be a return journey.

They were found interred with their heads removed and placed between their legs.

Anyone with an understanding of folklore will know that this method of burial is one of the methods by which the vampiric strix are allegedly prevented from coming back to the land of the living.

Obviously the HS2 archaeologists, perhaps keen to avoid a sensation in their work on the controversial and hugely expensive new rail link, did not allude to the possibility that this was an effective vampire burial.

They merely mooted the likelihood that these skeletons belonged to “criminals” or “a type of outcast”.

It is interesting to note that the use of bells, which were also discovered, was another method of stopping reanimated corpses from returning. As was placing small items near the vampire to make them count them and so keep them occupied. A number of these were found at the site.

Other examples of preventative measures against strix predations include putting rocks to the mouths of the deceased, reburial outside of the village, pinning bodies down with large rocks and hammering nails or stakes into corpses.

A press release issued by HS2 said of the strange burials: “There are several instances of the head being placed between the legs or next to the feet.

“One interpretation of this burial practice is that it could be the burial of criminals or a type of outcast, although decapitation is well-known elsewhere and appears to have been a normal, albeit marginal, burial rite during the late Roman period.”

I visited the site recently to see how close I could get to the graves. Unfortunately I could view and photograph the suspected area through binoculars, but could not get any closer than the surrounding farmland and entrance to the railway works.

What I did discover nearby was an abandoned church – the Church of St Mary, which is said to date back to Anglo-Saxon times.

However it lies on a circular, raised area which lends weight to the possibility that this is a very ancient religious site, with a newer church placed on top.

Once inside the fairly inaccessible church I found a font, which is around 700 years old, placed in the small vestry. The rest of the interior was sparse and beset with cobwebs.

There were a few scattered gravestones outside the building, which lent the place a rather spooky air.

The nearby town of Aylesbury has a long history, once being an Anglo-Saxon site called Æglesburgh.

There is some dispute over the etymology of the Æglesburgh, with some claiming it derived from the Old English for church-burgh.

Was this focus on religion and consecration a folk memory of a darkness that needed to be guarded against?

Intriguingly, the Fleet Marston discovery is not the only brush Buckinghamshire has had with alleged vampires.

The curious 12th century case of the Buckinghamshire Vampire was recorded by William of Newburgh, following an oral account by Stephen, the archdeacon of the diocese of Buckinghamshire.

The vampire was said to be the restless ghost of a dead man who acted in a vampire-like manner.

The entity was not referred to as a “vampire”, because the term was not known in the English language until the 18th century.

The story goes that the unnamed man died in 1192, somewhere in the county and was properly buried on the eve of Ascension Day.

But the night after burial, the corpse left his grave and visited his wife, leaping upon her while she slept and nearly killing her with the press of his weight.

The following night he did the same thing.

On the third night the wife had made preparations and recruited friends to keep a vigil for her.

When the vampire, referred to as a ‘revenant’ arrived, he was driven away by the loud shouts and cries of the wife and the others.

He was said to have turned his ire on his brothers who lived in the same town.

They adopted the same tactic and so the revenant was forced to target other people while they were asleep as well as harassing animals at night.

Eventually the creature began to appear during daytime hours and Archdeacon Stephen was called in.

He convened a synod, and wrote a letter to St. Hugh, the bishop of Lincoln, asking what should be done.

After some theological study it was found that similar incidents had allegedly taken place in other towns.

Learning from the experiences of others, it was said that the corpse had to be dug up and burned.

But the Archdeacon did not have the stomach for this so Hugh wrote out an absolution to be placed on the corpse’s chest.

When the tomb was opened, the body was found to be in surprising state of preservation. The absolution was laid on the cadaver’s chest and the grave was closed. This apparently worked as the vampire never returned.

The part of Buckinghamshire that this incident referred to has not been determined, but one can’t help but wonder if this is some oral tale passed down through the ages and embellished through the centuries, but ultimately refers to Fleet Marston in the first century.

We will probably never know.

Marvel’s Moon Knight and its portrayal of Ancient Egyptian mythology

Marvel’s latest on-screen superhero is a bit different than its usual fodder.

Rather than Iron Man or Captain America the rather obscure figure of Moon Knight is the subject of a new show now streaming on Disney+.

And viewers of this channel, who have watched it, would undoubtedly by pleased to see several shots of the British Museum in the first episode. Although, bizarrely, the central character, played by Oscar Isaac, appears to walk straight out of the Russel Square landmark and into Trafalgar Square. Good luck trying to do that if you’re ever in the capital.

Anyway the point of this preamble is to introduce the theme of this video – that of the Ancient Egyptian mythology that has a central role in the show and how fa7r that tallies with the real pantheon.

In the show the central character’s body is inhabited, unhappily, by several entities, with one of these being referred to as the god ‘Khonshu’.

Khonshu affords him supernatural powers to fight evildoers, but the multiple personalities of the character sees him driven incrementally insane.

In the comic books Moon Knight’s abilities are seen as being greater or lesser depending upon the phases of the moon.

Khonshu is a slight misspelling of the actual deity Khonsu, the Ancient Egyptian god of the moon.

His name means ‘traveller’ in reference to the nightly movement of the Moon across the firmament.

The travels of Khonsu across the sky was, along with the god Thoth, a marker of the passage of time.

Khonsu was seen as instrumental in the creation of new life in all living creatures.

His mother was the mother goddesses Mut and his father the chief god Amun.

The name Khonsu reflects the fact that the moon, known as ‘iah’ in Egyptian, travels across the sky.

He was said to also have the names ‘Embracer’, ‘Pathfinder’ and ‘Defender’ and was charged with keeping watch over nighttime travellers.

As the god of night light the deity, who was often depicted as a mummy, was invoked to protect travellers from the predations of wild animals and to conduct healing rituals.

He was said to make the crescent moon shine to create fresh air.

In this phase the god was also associated with fertility in women and livestock.

The god’s appearance included possession of the Pharaonic crook and flail, or heka and nekhakha and sometimes portrayed with a Horus-like falcon’s head adorned with the sun disk and the crescent moon.

The god found his zenith in the New Kingdom when he was revered as the “greatest god of the great gods” and was associated with miracles.

He is seen as a sacred progenitor in the temple complex at Karnak in a creation myth that presents him as the great snake who fertilised the cosmic egg in the creation of the world.

The series also features the female demonic entity Ammit, which is represented fairly accurately in terms of appearance. 

Ammit, a funerary deity, is known as the ‘Devourer of the Dead’ and the ‘Eater of Hearts’ and has the head of a crocodile, the forequarters of a lion and the rear eand of a hippopotamus.

The goddess was not worshipped, but feared as a creature of judgement whicg would determine the purity of hearts by weighing them against an ostrich feather. 

These scales of judgement featured briefly in the first episode.