Last week (August 1) I was in Dorset and without any planning in advance I found myself going for a walk around the Iron Age hill-fort of Badbury Rings.
As well as its archaeological value, the area is home to a dozen or so orchids – not (more…)
It always annoyed me that a fritillary could be both a flower and a butterfly, but now I know where the name came from I feel much easier about it…
This week I took a picture of our often forgotten snake’s head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) in the garden.
Every year it’s the same. I almost pull it out because I think it’s just some self-seeded grass – in all honesty I would have, if it hadn’t been slightly out of my reach on a raised bed.
Then suddenly it’s in flower, so delicate, its purple pattern so chequered. Clever, that. Although it looks better en masse in grass, as it is in Oxford’s Magdalen Meadows…
Then there is the butterfly – in fact a whole bunch of fritillaries, in the family known as Nymphalidae, which includes nymphalids and browns as well as the fritillaries.
You can tell the fritillaries because they have a chequered pattern and that’s the connection between flower and butterfly – (more…)
These musings on the stone called flint and its poorer-quality relation chert are prompted by the recent discovery of 120,000-year-old stone tools in the United Arab Emirates. Read more about that here.
Worked flint is beautiful – hard, glassy, grey, touchable. I first held it in my hands when studying prehistoric archaeology in the early 1970s.
At the time Bruce Bradley (now Professor) was studying for his PhD in experimental archaeology at Cambridge University. He was famous even then for his flint-knapping technique – it was said that it was lucky he wore spectacles as they were covered in tiny chips from the flying fragments of stone and he would otherwise have been blinded.
When he left he sold off many of his pieces. I have to admit I didn’t go to the sale myself, but my fellow student Matthew Spriggs picked up some flint tools for me. Thus I acquired the large hand axe, an arrowhead and a small sickle, all of which are pictured here.
And thanks to the miracle of Google, I find Matt is now an archaeology professor in Australia. I wondered what had happened to him!
On the same dark mid-winter day that we visited Usk and Monmouth, we also went to Tintern Abbey in the lovely Wye Valley.
We are members of Cadw and get in “free”, so we always visit when we are in the area.
It was early afternoon, but with sunset soon after 4pm at this time of year, it was already dim. It made the abbey’s stones seem more ruinous than ever but also showed up their lovely pink colour. I believe it’s the old red sandstone on which much of Monmouthshire stands and which gives the Wye its red colour.
Tintern Abbey was a Cistercian house founded in 1131 and rebuilt in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. It was surrendered to Henry VIII in 1536 when he dissolved the monasteries. He gave it to Henry Somerset, Earl of Worcester, who sold lead from the roof and leased parts of the area for cottages and other early industrial buildings.
The abbey regained fame in the 17th and 18th centuries when it was discovered by the Romantic poets (such as Wordsworth) and artists (such as Turner).
My aim for the day had been to take pictures of bare winter trees and some of these were visible from the abbey, too.
What I noticed most, though, was the hard white lichen like chewing gum patches all over the stones.
And the whole ruins, which have stood tall for so many centuries, looked as if they would crumble into damp rubble at any moment.
Howard Carter spent years documenting the thousands of artefacts from the tomb he uncovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1922. At the time, after making a small hole in the door of the tomb and shining a candle light through, he was asked by his patron Lord Carnarvon if he could see anything. He famously said “Yes… wonderful things!”
On the fiftieth anniversary of this discovery, just 50 of the thousands of “wonderful things” from the tomb came to London to go on display at the British Museum. I was lucky enough to (more…)
As we draw near to the northern hemisphere’s summer solstice, I thought I would post some old black and white pictures I took of Stonehenge and other West Country prehistoric monuments during an archaeological field class in Spring 1974.
Those were the days! Such monuments were not the tourist attractions they are today and they were often in isolated spots with no visitor centres nearby.
This weekend the (more…)