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Oct 29, 2012

Archaeologist discovers witchcraft site on her front lawn

As an archaeologist, I'm always wondering what's under the land I'm walking on. I've had the privilege to live next to a Roman road, on a Mesolithic camp site, and near a Bronze age burial mound. That's not too exceptional if you live in England.

Archaeologist Jacqui Wood in Cornwall, however, has me beat. When she decided to do some construction on her land she found evidence of witchcraft rituals dating back centuries. She's uncovered a series of pits dug into the earth that were filled with swan skins covered in feathers. The skins had been turned inside out so that the feathers lined the pit.

One of the pits included not only the swan skin, but the claws of several different species of bird and pebbles found only on the coastline at least 15 miles away. Another pit had 55 eggs sitting on top of the swan-feather lining, including seven feathers that were ready to hatch. Magpie remains had been placed on either side of the eggs. Some of the pits had been emptied but still had a few feathers and stones remaining to show what had been there.

Radiocarbon dating found that the earliest swan skins dated to the 1640s during the English Civil War. Eerily, others dated as recently as the 1950s. One even had plastic in it!

Wood also discovered a spring-fed pool lined with white quartz so that it would glow in the moonlight. As offerings, the locals had thrown in strips of cloth, nail cuttings, heather branches, pins, and bits of shoe.

I'm not well versed in paganism, so I'll put it out to my readers. Anyone know what these rituals could have been for?

Maybe next she'll find a witch bottle!

Oct 15, 2012

The Maine Penny: an archaeological mystery

While every history reader knows the Vikings came to North America around 1000 AD, that wasn't always the case. A half century ago, there was heated debate over whether the Vikings had reached so far west. The Vinland Saga seemed to indicate they had, but there was no real evidence. It wasn't until the excavation of L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland in 1978 that there was definitive proof that the Vikings colonized North America.

There was some evidence before this. In 1957, archaeologist Guy Mellgren was excavating a midden (trash heap) at a Native American site in Maine discovered this silver coin five inches below the surface. Coin experts determined it was minted in Norway between 1065 and 1080 AD. This set off a huge controversy. Some archaeologists even accused Mellgren of "seeding" the site in order to win fame.

Now that we know the Vikings did come to the New World, Mellgren has been vindicated. He hadn't found a Viking settlement, though. The site was purely Native American and now researchers believe the coin made its way south as a trade item. It's now in the the Maine State Museum.

Oct 8, 2012

Religious intolerance during the Reformation

As I mentioned in my post about Muslim depictions of Muhammad, the use of images in the rivalry between religions is nothing new. This image is from the Reformation, when Europe was being torn apart between traditional Catholics and those who wanted to reform the Church. This led to the foundation of several Protestant sects, and several wars and revolutions that killed hundreds of thousands.

This Protestant engraving shows devils shitting out monks and priests. Yes, it's pretty offensive. It just goes to show that the wars over faith have been going on a long time.

Oct 1, 2012

Aleppo souk, one end of the Silk Road, destroyed in Syrian revolution

I was very sad to read today in the Irish Times that the medieval souk in Aleppo, Syria, was destroyed in the fighting between the dictatorship and antigovernment forces.

Called Al-Madina (the City), it was a cluster of covered markets connected to one another and built around the 13th century. Located close to the Mediterranean, Aleppo acted as the western end of the Silk Road. Think of all the cultures that must have mingled in these arched hallways and little shops! Hopefully the stonework has survived and they'll be able to rebuild this historic gathering place and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The top photo comes from some guy calling himself farflungistan. The other one was taken by Zaid El-Hoiydi, who has a really cool website of photos about Syria.