The Mystery of Maeshowe

Maeshowe is another one of the Neolithic wonders on Orkney. A vast chambered tomb it stands on an ancient trackway that connects it to the stunningly well-preserved village of Skara Brae, as well as passing near the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar.

Various calculations by archaeologists estimate it needed up to 100,000 man-hours to build and complete. Maeshowe is generally described as a tomb, but if so, why does it have a door that can only be closed from the inside? A pivoting stone door blocks off the entrance, but can only be closed from the inside?

Once more the poem The Seer provides a (mythical) answer.

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Maeshowe appears as a grassy mound rising from a flat plain near the southeast end of the Loch of Harray. On the Winter Solstice, the sun rises between the Hills of Hoy to shine directly down the passageway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First of the Great Stone Circles

 

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Stonehenge the best known of all the Great Stone Circles. But a thousand years before its construction its parent was being built at Stenness in the Orkneys.

Stonehenge, Avebury, The Ring of Brodgar, Callanish and hundreds of lesser stone circles are to be found in the British Isles and elsewhere. But which was the first and from where did the knowledge that went into their building originate? Dating information indicates that the very first, the Mother and Father of all the Great Circles of Stone, was the Stone Circle of Stenness, to be found on the Isle of Orkney.

Which in turn gives rise to a great mystery.  From where came the knowledge to build the first Stone Ring at Stenness? And to place the alignments with the Solstices?

The Poem the Seer (of Stenness) gives one explanation, albeit mythical. The poem is available here

Voices from the past

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Rudston Church, East Yorkshire, England

It is both surprising and stunning. As you come around the edge of Rudston church, there is the monolith, the tallest in England at 7.6 metres, with reputedly the same length buried under the ground. It is so unexpected that the stranger can only stop and admire. Of course, it predates the church by many thousands of years, and it’s presence says something very clearly. This is a holy site and has been for millennia. It is one of many henges, standing stones, circles and tumulus that still litter the landscape, that speak of a past now lost to us. Their silent witness tells of people who cared enough to put a huge effort into constructing and erecting monoliths such as this one. But why? We can only speculate. Speculate not only about the purpose, though that is grand enough. But who organised the fetching of the stone that forms it? Who fed the labourers, who had the knowledge and skill to erect a structure that has lasted thousands of years? They clearly had the leadership, resources and commitment not out of place in a modern company. Reflect on the fact that the monolith weights some 26 tons, and was transported a distance of 10 miles to its present site, and ask yourself the question, how far have we really progressed today?

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Magic or Medicine?

Writing “The Wisdom of Rhiannon” was a test of my beliefs. I was trained as a physicist which fashioned me to see the physical world in which we live in a certain way. So I was challenged in trying to determine what “powers” did the Druids have; any, or was it trickery, or a good knowledge of the natural world, for example, in predicting eclipses?  What was the nature of ancient knowledge?  Certainly there is evidence of quite remarkable medical knowledge, for example, trepanation, a delicate surgical technique for making a hole in someone’s skull, with evidence that the technique dates back as far as 6500 BC, with plenty of people recovering from the operation.

And this was my difficulty.  How did ancient peoples “know” what to do, let alone the Druids?  Where did their knowledge come from?  And what was the extent of it?  My scientific training taught me that observation, experimentation, theory, and more experimentation were the only ways to classify and understand the world.  But then there are people like Rupert Sheldrake, a scientist, who talks about morphic resonance, fields which reverberate and exchange information within a universal life force.

Could the Druids, amongst others, “know” when to trepan, could they “know” which herbs to collect, how to prepare medicines from them, see into the future, could they perform “magic”?  But at that time I decided this was a step too far for my rational mind, so the Druids in my book are broadly simply clever people who are well read and educated.

And I think I was wrong!

If I had read Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer’s book, Extraordinary knowing: Science, Skepticism, and the Inexplicable, I would have changed my mind, just as she was forced to change hers, moving from a hard scientific paradigm to a much more open minded view.  In a book full of challenging examples to the rational of conventional science, there was one example I really liked.  The very successful brain surgeon who waited by the head of the patients he was scheduled to operate on until he “saw” a white light; it might take minutes, or hours, but when he saw the light, he knew his operation would be successful.  His difficulty was, how to teach the technique to medical students and other surgeons, so he didn’t, because he would have been laughed at, ridiculed, after all, everyone knows that medical science doesn’t work like that!

Or can it?

A 2000 year old coin

coinsIt sits on a shelf, in a little pillbox.  I rarely look at it, yet somehow I am always aware of its presence.  Not in a good or a bad way, but as though gravity is slightly heavier near to it.  Tonight I took it out of its box and viewed it again.  Compared to a modern coin, it’s tiny, light and not well finished.

Yet what holds me is that 2,000 years ago, someone minted this coin, someone carried this coin with them, perhaps it changed hands many times, and I guess someone lost this coin, who knows,  and somehow, it found its way to my shelf.  In geographical terms, a short journey from Norfolk to Yorkshire, in terms of time, a journey that few artefacts survive.

Certainly, the kingdom of the Catuvellauni, whose coinage it was, has long disappeared in the sea of history, and of those who live in its lands today, there will be few who will have heard of this long lost kingdom.  Yet a coin survives to tell a tale and to speak of people who lived, loved, fought wars, and vanished, although no doubt the children of their children’s children still live, love and walk in the footsteps of their ancestors.

And the coin?  Does history, or time, imbue it with a power, a presence, or is it my imagination?

 

A face that still haunts me

It didn’t even warrant the title “stream”, trickle was a more apt description for the small outflow of water running over a few rocks and surrounded by a mantle of mud. I trod warily, trying to avoid the soft, sticky mire, distracted also by the number of items hanging from the trees surrounding the water. I found myself constantly looking up into their branches, which were hung with a panoply of teddy bears, ribbons of all descriptions, and a host of small trinkets and mirrors that glittered as they spun in the breeze and caught the sunlight.

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The mystery face.

So it was an unexpected discovery. There at the source of the spring, was a face. It stopped me in my tracks, and for a moment I wondered if I was really alone, the face seemed to have been so recently created.  As I looked harder, I saw the two green leaves that represented tears and felt the pain that seemed to emanate from it. I wondered who had created it, and what it meant to them, and I hoped that it represented a turning point, a transition that led to light and love. I stood there for a long time, feeling the mystery of the face, wondering about its creator, caught also by the ancient spirit of my surroundings, a place that felt outside of time. Of my time anyway.

I returned to that place a few times during the week that I spent holidaying nearby. I learnt that it was a place of healing, with a history that went back thousands of years, before Roman feet walked the land, and that somehow, the knowledge of its power had not been lost, and some still visited it.

On my visits, I never did see anyone else at this sacred site, although there was always a feeling, a feeling of awareness of a – I have no word for it – a presence.

 

 

 

Strange star flashing in the heavens

Currently, Scholz’s star is a small, dim red dwarf in the constellation of Monoceros, about 20 light-years away, and now moving away from us. However, about 70,000 years ago, it just grazed the outer reaches of the solar system as it wandered by, accompanied by its brown dwarf companion.

At the closest point in its flyby of the solar system, Scholz’s star would have been a 10th magnitude star – about 50 times fainter than can normally be seen with the naked eye at night. But because it is magnetically active, such stars can “flare” and briefly become thousands of times brighter. So it is possible that Scholz’s star may have been visible to the naked eye by our ancestors 70,000 years ago for minutes or hours at a time during these flaring events.

What would our ancestors have made of this stranger in the heavens? What would we have made of it a thousand years ago if it were passing by us then and not 70,000 years previously?

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An artist’s concept of Scholz’s star with its brown-dwarf companion in the foreground during their flyby of the solar system 70,000 years ago. The sun would appear as a bright star from the pair (left background). Credit: Michael Osadciw/University of Rochester

 

Cup and Ring markings

I had never heard of them before, until we moved to Yorkshire, near to the famous Ilkley Moor.  There I discovered that just about every rock on the Moors cupandring2was inscribed with cup and ring markings. And more than that, cup and ring markings are to be found in abundance all over of Britain, and to a lesser extent, the world.

They consist of a concave depression, no more than a few centimetres across, pecked into a rock surface and often surrounded by concentric circles also etched into the stone. Sometimes a linear channel called a gutter leads out from the middle.

They first date back to around 6,000 years ago and continued to be carved on stones for cupandring1another 2-3,000 years.

They are perhaps one of the biggest mysteries of ancient times, and yet one of the least known.  Britain has more of these markings than anywhere else, and they are to be found throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

As an example, there are many to be found at Kilmartin Glen.  Amongst the numerous cup and ring markings can be found what can only be described as “rock art”, as well as standing stones, cairns, and from a later age, a hill fort.

But what are they meant to symbolise? Why did ancient peoples spend hours, days probably, making these strange marks on outcrops of rock?  And why did the tradition of making the carvings last so long?

There are no answers; Professor Alex Thom thought that their creators might have used a standard measure in their creation, and there seems to be some evidence for this, but far from conclusive.  And even if there is a standard measure, it does not answer the question, why?

The Tower of the Winds

What a wonderful title for a tower, and no, it’s not found in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Instead, it stands inside the Vatican and was built to answer, in effect, the question, how long is a day.  The answer that they came up with was not 24 hours, but rather 23 hours and fifty-six minutes.

The Tower of the Winds was built between 1578 and 1580 as a means leading to the reform of the Julian calendar which had been in use since 45 BCE. At midday, the sun shines through a hole in the wall, and illuminates a large sundial inscribed on the floor of the tower, and thus provided the means of calculating the true length of a day.

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The Gregorian calendar that followed introduced the leap year as a means of compensating for the real length of a day.

As the photo shows, the Tower is richly decorated and is one of the highest points in Vatican City.

But predating that is an even older Tower of the Winds, to be found in Athens.  I can do no better than quote from the Athens Tourist Information web site, viz:

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The Tower of the Winds is found in the Roman Agora of Athens, between the quarters of Plaka and Monastiraki. This is among the most famous sights of Athens. A 12-metre-tall structure with a diameter of 8 metres, this tower has an octagonal shape. It was made of fine Pentelic marble probably around 50 B.C. by the Greek astronomer Andronicus of Cyrrhus. This tower has many uses in ancient times. It was originally constructed as a timepiece, that is to estimate time, based on the position of the sun. It was also used for weather indicating and forecasting. The tower features a combination of sundials, a water clock and a wind vane. In fact, its frieze depicts the eight wind deities according to their direction: Boreas (N), Kaikias (NE), Eurus (E), Apeliotes (SE), Notus (S), Livas (SW), Zephyrus (W) and Skiron (NW). Source: http://www.greeka.com

Hillforts

An atlas listing and detailing 4,147 hillforts was released to the public for free on the 22nd June. The atlas gives an exhaustive list of all the known hillforts in Britain, and adds considerably to the previous list of  1,224 hillforts listed in the Wikipedia entry for June 2017. The press release states:

Mostly built during the Iron Age, the oldest hillforts date to around 1,000BC and the most recent to around 700AD. Hillforts were central to more than 1,500 years of ancient living: with numerous functions – some of which are yet to be fully uncovered – hillforts served as communal gathering spaces. The research also shows that, fascinatingly, not all hillforts are on hills; nor are they all forts.

And that is part of the mystery. There are some hillforts, for example, Maiden Castle in Dorset, the biggest hillfort in Europe, that are truly hillforts, not only atop significantly high hills, but with impressive defences, and in the case of Maiden Castle, with clear evidence of attack(s) by the Romans.

Yet there are others that look at first glance as “defended enclosures” to use the archeological term, but are indefensible.  They have a bank and ditch, but arranged in such a way that they offer no impediment to attackers.  Thornborough Henges is one of the most important examples, and is viewed as being part of a ritual landscape, whatever that means!