Category: Archeology

Rome-Christanity and the Ending of Worlds (by )

When confronted with a graph on facebook showing the "dark ages" and the ensuing arguments over weather Christianity was the savour/cause of it... I write this:

The two events were entwined - the fall of the Empire was also plagued by natural and human fed disaster which led to desperation which fuelled the new religion which in some cases caused its own disasters but also monotheism in general was on the rise - if we'd have ended up with an Abrahamic religion which ever way we turned - the world was ending and they are doomsday/death cults on the most basic of levels. The loss of information and learning oscillated between the Christians and the Vikings with both also picking up the slack at moving education forward at various points of history as well as being the book burning racists at others ie one good period in England for education was due to Christian Missionaries from Africa (before the Norman conquest). History is a many threaded rug.


This maybe why people get grumpy with me on Facebook. Obviously this is a very very simplified statement and that in general is the issue with history - everyone wants and was taught simple narratives which not only do not paint the full picture but are often twisted to agendas and that's before you look at how biased the original sources were anyway - remember history was written by the battle winners and as writing was often the preserve of priests of one variety or another they are tinged with that element plus of cause the story telling needs and until relatively recently history was seen as something that was given to you by divine inspiration - a little factoid is missing or inconvenient? Pray and get a juicer more interesting thing to put in your script. Many of the older religions ie Judaism have mechanisms to try and prevent these copying errors/mutations but even then you are looking at scripts that spent many generations as oral transitions before they were ever confirmed in script on a page.

So yeah the Roman Empire's falling - but you know it was gradual - it became too big for it's communication network - it tried having multiple leaders which started well until Constantine decided to murder the other Empire and his son - the kid was his nephew - he let his sister live. And yes he was the first Christian Emperor due to a miracle he saw on route to battle (probably a meteor breaking up before it impacted the ground - if there was anything at all - but equally it could have been something else - maybe even the divine). But it was a political move also, a lot of the wealthy in the Empire where playing with the new religion - it was hip and trendy - it had eeking out past it's oppression (just) - it was the religion of the town - pagan comes from the latin for country side as the pantheon of gods got pushed out of the cities and was considered to only be for the unenlightened.

I think it was his mother that was obsessed with the new religion and traveled to the holy lands to find the roads that Jesus trod - she in many respects is the first archaeologists we have on record and her somewhat mythical landscape is still imprinted on the area with many pilgrims still following all that she found and was told - though this was hundreds of years after Christ had actually walked those roads.

But this was only one time in the break up of the Empire - another saw the reclaiming of the Mediterranean sea as an Imperial lake and a rejuvenation of trade and art... only to be struck down by the first virulent plague out break - the Emperor survived - his wife didn't and he was fatigued and in constant pain afterwards - many blamed his wife for being a hoar (she was a dancer when he met her and fell in love).

Yet another ending saw a sop of an Emperor, who fled the city of Rome leaving his sister as a prisoner of the Goth's - yes this was the sacking of Rome by Alaric in 410 AD - there were fires so fierce that they fused gold coin and limestone pavements - it was off course a misunderstanding - climate change and war had left the Goths with no home and little food and they considered themselves to still be part of the Empire that had still been wringing taxes out of anyone and everyone they could reach. So they fled to the capital as refugees hoping for aid - the Emperor panicked and a lot of the damage was done by the Romans themselves.

This is often seen as The End and the Emperor's sister married Alaric's bother (can't remember if it was a half/step or full brother) and it seemed to be a marriage for love and not politics.

But that wasn't The end as there was Holy Roman Empire's and time periods shift and change slowly on human time scales. And things where up and down and up and down.

The end of Roman Britain is the beginning of Anglo-Saxon/Viking Britain - but it wasn't a distinct cut off it was an overlap - and one that was gradual as the Romans pulled out the tribes come and saw no resistance, warred and then settled. The Romans took their time pulling out and didn't even really all go as many of them where intermarried and actually native born by this point.

Because I have an interest in this stuff anyway and because it is relevant to my novel series I have spent my teens and adult life reading and watching and prodding at ruins (well mostly taking photographs) - not full time - not even really part time - I am not an historian or archaeologist though people keep insisting on calling me that at the moment (last night I was referred to as a "proper" medievalist when I went to speak to someone about their talk on medieval humour and art - they were worried that I would pick holes in their talk! O.o ). I have collected a kind of over view - being a geologist I tend to bring things back to the rocks and the earth systems and this is my take on it:

The plagues did a lot of damage - the plagues were caused by over crowded cities with good travel and trade interconnects - a transport networks for the disease vectors to move along. But the plagues could only get a hold of a population if and when they became malnourished as that weakens the immune system - this is the difference between it being an outbreak and it going full blow PLAGUE. Healthy individuals who are cared for have good chances of surviving even the roughest of illnesses. Weak, hungry, over crowded, tired and overworked people with little scope for cleaning, washing or just having contaminated water to begin with - they... will not recover - they will die and it will spread like wild fire.

Weather calamities muck up food production - hungry people war over resources which causes even worse resource problems as it cuts down trade - you get a sickness, starvation, war cycle - this of course results in DEATH - the four horse men are ridding out. Religion sometimes precipitated the disaster and ones that were avoidable or had the chances for some serious damage limitation where exploded into carnage (I think it was the 13th century European plague out break that saw families abandoning the sick because it was seen as a judgement from god thus increasing the death toll drastically - sick people need to be fed during the recovery period or they will die of starvation if not relapse of the illness). OF course religion at other junctures was the balm that allowed to people to care for they're stricken neighbours and to rebuild afterwards.

When proper pandemics hit with no modern medical care (possibly even with) - you have a crash in population numbers - civilisation relies on an intricate series of feedback loops that all rely on everyone doing their part of the system. If you loose a chunk of your population - you have a problem. Even 10% is going to have a huge impact - that is 1 in 10 of the farmers, the teachers, the army. You can't produce as much food, education and knowledge transfer falters and you are in a weaker position to those around you who may be having similar food issues.

So actually my conclusion in looking at history as a whole is that these turning points - the collapsing civilisations and transition appear to be connected to the weather - to climate. Whether it is an increase in drought, damp, stupid long winters that catch you expected or rising sea levels. Some of these seem to be linked to volcanic events and others to human activity ie deforestation by the meso-ammerican cultures occurred around the right time to be a factor in the mini-iceage which is thought to have been a big factor in the "dark ages" of Europe - these things are global but we often only look at the localised focal most relevant to us.

I have asked historians at talks and so on if they think this is plausible - most just look at me slightly confused so this really is just my thoughts on the subjects. I even think the witch trials and things can basically be boiled down to... something disrupted the system and people panicked. That something I think is nearly always factors beyond our control - what then happens during the disastors is very much humanities own invention... war, famine, plague loop-la-lopping around each other in diminishing loops until things have settled and are stable again. The "dark ages" is probably the last BIG one of these but it is not the only one and I don't even think it was the biggest it is just most people don't seem to realise what a wealth of very very old and advanced history there is outside of Europe.

Weekly Aethelflaed Twitter Round Up (by )

This year marks the 1100 yr anniversary of the death of Queen Aethelflaed Lady of Mercia and Mother of England - a Warrior Queen lost from much of our visible and accessible history in this country. Finding out that Gloucester is where she was buried and that there was going to be a festival in honour of her in June - I decided to undertake an Aethelflaed Quest and Search for All Things Anglo-Saxon. I have since ended up on board and doing things for the festival - I am having a lot of fun and there is a new puppet - Aethelflaed herself once more resides in Gloucester.

Here is the weekly tweets πŸ™‚

The Festival is all over the city - I am doing family fun drove in stuff actually at the ruins of St Oswolds - you can find out more about the whole thing here.

Hats For Headway (by )

So this is a thing, I didn't know it was a thing - I probably did but then forgot :/ But get your fancy head gear out!

knitted brain hat

Today is #HatsforHeadway to raise awareness and cash for an absolutely brilliant charity who have helped so much with people like me who have sustained head injuries. This is the hat I knitted for the Science Showoff on Neurology and brainy things special that they did. It was a wonderful evening with Dr Carina Fearnley a fellow head injury sufferer and friend from my Geology undergraduate days. She has made a fantastic video about her experience:

The event was at the Star of Kings in London but I believe was raising money for the Bristol Headway and I made a paper mache brain and got gummy brain sweets. The hat has since appeared at various British Science Week Events, Cheltenham Science Festival and BBC Country File Live show/festival. It was an amazing night were I learnt about all sorts of things including the medical skeletons etc... lurking beneath London and what their skulls can tell us!

What I didn't say at the time was that I was struggling with knitting due to the damage to my left hand side so this whole thing was create out of loom knitting (French knitting or knitting nancy/spool knitting are all mini looms). Also for me to actually make it to the gig my dad had to come and meet me at the station - which in your 30's is pretty embarrassing, but I have only recently been able to attempt travel on my own on that sort of scale and I was still unable to cook anything other than a microwave meal safely on my own (I've set fire to pans and tried to pick up boiling pots with my bare hands...).

There is currently an Art Exhibit and series of talks etc... at Kings College about head injury including a pice on Identity after the fact. I myself had to basically learn to draw again - I always drew with both hands but now... the pictures come out distorted - I have a blind spot in my left eye, and hand coordination was hard. Add in the crisis of everyone else knowing more about me than I myself did and I ended up producing Love: A Stranger Dream. It started as distinct pictures which people asked for as colouring sheets so I put them up for free download here. Then I realised there was a kind of non-linear narrative or themes running through the works and it became a book of visual poetry. I took refuge in art - something that is quiet important in developing coping mechanisms and reducing the amount of depression that head injury victims feel - it is like having everything that is you stripped away.

I even made audio.

And video of it.

Art that started as a way to just express myself when speech and writing where hard graft ended up as something that has helped friends, it explores lots of different aspects of identity and so has ended up at GLBT+ events, dis/different-ability events, music and art installations, two different events for International Women's Day, comic book conventions, poetry events, story telling and maze festivals. I've even made a dress from the art work 0.o - ok yeah I got carried away!

(can't find the photo - if I came across it I'll add it later! but it got compared to the stuff worn by the Welsh Eisteddfod singer/bardic peeps)

As I've probably bored everyone with - I have not long been discharged from the head injury unit including physio at Gloucester Royal - still under neurology but the main chunk of it is done. Charities like Headway - the brain injury association are an absolute life line and they have local branches but head injury sufferers often struggle to get the help that's needed especially as most of the time they still look "normal". I was being mistaken for being drunk and struggling with lots of things. So yeah - hats for headway πŸ™‚

Anglo-Saxon Music and Poetry (by )

Bryd One Brere - Anglo-Saxon are and Voice

So I have been investigating the oral traditions of the Anglo-Saxons, this includes song, poetry and story telling and really how the three were once one thing - no ones really quiet sure what the music sounded like or how much of the stories where sung or spoken - there were probably variations like we have today - after all they were people just like us.

Replicas of the instruments much such beautiful haunting sounds that I have fallen in love with them and found myself falling down a rabbit whole of music history and theory. I am now reading up on the general history of the lyre or harp which has taken me back into the old testament of the bible and also into listening to Pirate Thrash Metal!

Stories where not just entertainment they were the history and identity of people but they were also the media of the time. You wanted to be remembered then you needed the bards to sing of you! Aethelflaed, her father Alfred the Great and her brother all knew how important stories could be.

We are lucky in that some of these stories still exist today - some even got written down in contemporary times ie more than a millennium ago! But even written stories struggle at being static and alter with the copying and in some cases purging of the words. Aethelflaed herself appears to have been purposefully written out of the Wessex or primary version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - by her brother for fear that the stories of her would encourage her Kingdom of Mercia to see itself as always distinct from Wessex. But she appears in later stories - romanticised and even turned into a virgin - though potentially that is due to exact meanings of words changing through time.

It is thought that the poem Judith is based on her - and maybe even commissioned by her - it casts parallels of the virtuous biblical female and the Lady of Mercia. I need to investigate it more - here's the [Wikipedia page](Anglo-Saxon poem Judith). I am struggling to find copies or it but I have found this 7 hr etc... video of another poem called The Wanderer - this is the one I have been quoting (in translation) at my poetry afternoons in Waterstones in Gloucester.

Of course the fact that I am having to read out translations is another fascinating warren of knowledge for me to investigate - I was taught in school about Old and Middle English but I kind of forgot about it all except when Alaric starts quoting Chuarcer at me. Due to character develop for my puppet of Aethelflaed I am also investigating the language - I love how languages split and merge and change and how you can trace human interactions along the lines of dialects and word exchange. But that shall be another blog post or two - back to Anglo-Saxon Music.

Youtube is filled with some brilliant pieces.

Anglo-Saxon poem "Deor" with Lyre

One of the reasons I have got myself a lyre is because they appear in the art works of Anglo-Saxon England and remnants have been found both in Britain on in Europe, culturally the Anglo-Saxons where from northern Europe including what is now Germany and those pesky Vikings they were fighting, they had once been themselves. So you can through Danes into the mix not to mention the "Celtic" and Britons who were lurking around since before Roman times, we always tend to think of history in simple A to B narratives but it very much isn't and there are influences from all over the place. The lyre itself is a very ancient instrument and may well have come to Europe from the Middle East - as in the harp that David plays in the bible.

But the lyre is not the only instrument that the Anglo-Saxons used - drums and flutes are featured in their artworks - I simply do not have the budget to explore these other instruments at the moment but it is on the to-do list. It is thought that they would often have been played in conjunction with each other - here is an example.

Anglo-Saxon Folk Music - "Wælheall"

Music isn't as clear cut a thing as I was initially taught at school with 8 notes and nothing in-between, musical tuning and what counts as a note has changed quiet drastically. I see this as an amazing diversity and am happy because having grown up with folk and gospel singing I also struggled with the classical definition of music. Rock and pop tend to mix it all up which I think is also fab! But this can mean that people perceive older types of music or say those from India etc... as being out of tune. This isn't the case but it is due to how the instruments are tuned. They are in tune with themselves and not necessarily with other surrounding instruments, you have to work at finding what fits together and as a vocalist adapt to the instruments you are singing along with. In choir I did a lot of singing without instrument backing - sometime the song sound fab - we were all in tune with each other and the music was full and vibrating the rafters but when the piano was dinged at the end to see if we had maintained our tuning - we... hadn't. We were off doing our own thing. I think that this is kind of how older music would have worked - you had natural materials which would affect what sounds the finished instrument would be suited too ie the grain of the wood and the shape in which it carved, the diet of the animal the sinue came from to string it... so many little factors. The classical music that we are taught as Music in schools has very specific parameters and if and instrument can't meet those it is considered defective - I think there is no coincidence that the emergence of such strict musicality came about as technology and science began to be a thing throughout Europe.

This is complete guess work on my part I can't even read music (well not with out looking the notes up and then pinging them on my guitar! I've always worked things out by watching or just playing around with the instrument), I am certainly no music theorist and I'm not even a historian! If I am wrong - tell me how I am wrong - I am investigating this stuff - searching and learning and others input is always appreciated!

What's that? I digressed? Yeah ok you have a point....

I will finish off with this video I found of The Classic - the first piece of European Literature (if you take the Mediterranean as not being Europe) - the Epic Poem of BeoWulf sung and played on the hardy-gurdy (now there's an instrument I would like to get my hands on! But I believe it was a later dated instrument - more high medieval than the low medieval of Saxon England - I could be wrong as I have a hell of a lot more reading to do!).

I think this is this guy - anyway I better get back to trying to work out how to play my lyre - twinkle twinkle little star.... ok so they are the tunes I knew the best ok!

Weekly Twitter Round Up for The Aethelflaed Quest (by )

It is 1100 yrs since Warrior Queen Aethelflaed was buried in Gloucester - one of the new minsters she founded, Gloucester is therefore having an epic festival to highlight this forgotten woman of history - I have somehow ended up involved - I am very excited and have even designed and with my parents made a new puppet and workshop materials for Cuddly Science/Cuddly History.

Here is the week in tweets about my adventures πŸ™‚

The Festival itself has it's own twitter handle Aethelflaed2018.

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