Monthly Archives: February 2014

An intact Bronze Age burial on Dartmoor

Okay, this post is a little late considering this story was in the media almost two weeks ago, but just incase you may have missed it, I thought I’d put it up anyway. Better late than never and all that.

In 2011, a Bronze Age cist was discovered on Dartmoor on Whitehorse Hill, near Chagford, containing an intact cremation burial.

The excavated cist being recorded. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

The excavated cist being recorded. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

Remarkable in itself for being undisturbed, this burial has been described as one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the last 100 years, as well as the most important ancient find on the moor, and the contents are soon to go on display to the public.

The cremation was wrapped in an animal pelt that had survived incredibly due to being buried in peat, and this fur also contained a fragment of textile (possibly a belt or sash) with a leather fringe, a bracelet (which I will discuss below), and a coil-made basket. Within this basket were discovered about 200 beads, with some made from shale, and others of amber traded from the Baltic, a flint flake and wooden disks believed to have been used as either stud earrings or inserted into a belt, made from spindle wood. This is a hard, fine-grained tree that grows on Dartmoor, which traditionally is used to make knitting needles, and these pieces are the earliest examples of wood-turning in Britain, being unique in the archaeological record of the island. Prior to this find, only eight beads had been found on Dartmoor from the Bronze Age within the last 100 years, and so this discovery has greatly increased the volume of material from this period that is available for study. 

The basket removed from the burial, which contained the beads, wooden earrings and flint flake. Image: BBC

The basket removed from the burial, which contained the beads, wooden earrings and flint flake. Image: BBC

A selection of amber beads and wooden earrings from within the basket. Image: BBC

A selection of beads and wooden earrings from within the basket. Image: BBC

However, despite the presence of amber suggesting a high status individual due to the magical associations with this material and its part in long-distance Continental trade, it is the bracelet that is of real interest due to the decoration included. The bracelet itself is made from woven cow hair, with 35 studs originally included (three are now missing) as decoration made from worked tin. This is particularly interesting, as it provides the earliest example of worked tin from the South West of Britain, and tin in itself is rare in the prehistoric record as decoration. As well as the bracelet, this excavation also revealed a bead made from tin.

The woven bracelet with tin decoration. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

The woven bracelet with tin decoration. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

It is believed that this burial belonged to a female aged between 14 and 25 who was of  a high social standing, and the location of the cist on a site 600 metres above sea level that would have been visible to much of the surrounding landscape suggests a person who needed to be seen and remembered by many people over a wide region.

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The Scale of the Universe — 100th post!

I’ve been wondering what I should do for my 100th post (I feel like this is a milestone I’ve reached, and an achievement that I’ve stuck with this blog for this long), and then remembered an animation that a physics teacher showed at work the other week to a class of Y10 students. I don’t know if they really appreciated it, but my mind boggled when I saw it. It really puts into perspective the position of the Earth within the wider universe, and genuinely surprised me just how incredibly small things are, as well as illustrating very well that size is only really relative. I’ve got very little else to say about it, as it speaks for itself really, but I urge you to click on this link and have a look:

The Scale of the Universe

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Books, and ‘Reclaimed Books Part 5’

I came across these over the past few days:

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  • J.D. Salinger –  The Catcher in the Rye     50p
  • Francoise Sagan –  Bonjour Tristesse     20p
  • J.R.R. Tolkien –  The Hobbit     25p
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez –  Of Love and Other Demons     20p
  • Jennifer Elliot –  An Introduction to Sustainable Development: The Developing World     25p
  • William Shakespeare –  Macbeth     25p
  • William Shakespeare –  Henry V     25p
  • Ovid –  Metamorphoses     25p
  • Homer –  The Iliad     25p

The book on sustainable development is interestingly written by a woman who was (at the time the book was published) a Geography lecturer at my local university, Staffordshire University. Also, I nearly bought this book in Oxford when I was studying gender and sustainable development as part of one of my anthropology option papers, but didn’t like the price Oxfam were asking for it, so I was happy to find this copy for 25p!

Now hang on- there’s more! After I’d snapped this little lot, I then got these:

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  • Roald Dahl –  Switch Bitch, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, and My Uncle Oswald     50p each

I would have also had one of Roald Dahl’s other short story collections ‘Someone Like You’ as well, had another man not grabbed it before I had chance.

Oh, and then yesterday…

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  • Elizabeth Gaskell –  Cranford     20p
  • Charles Dickens –  The Christmas Books: A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth     40p

Now, I know that I already own a copy of ‘Cranford’ that includes two other related novellas, but this edition includes a critical introduction, a Cranford-based short story, and a short essay by Gaskell. And it’s an OUP edition. And it was only 20p. The other book, I do actually own a copy of already in this edition, and it is still at my parent’s house. However, I have no idea where, and so I thought for 40p it wouldn’t hurt to get another copy incase that one doesn’t turn up.

This last point now moves me smoothly on to the ‘Reclaimed Books Part 5’ bit of this blog post title. Today, I picked these up from my parents:

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  • Euripides –  Medea and Other Plays
  • Sophocles –  The Three Theban Plays
  • Robert Harris –  Fatherland (one of my favourite novels, which I read in less than two days about four years ago)
  • Thomas Hardy –  Far From the Madding Crowd
  • William Shakespeare –  Romeo and Juliet
  • Daniel Defoe –  Robinson Crusoe

…and I finally remembered to get these:

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I picked up ‘The BFG’ and ‘Danny the Champion of the World’ a few months ago, and so these are the rest:

  • James and the Giant Peach
  • The Complete Adventures of Charlie and Mr Willy Wonka (Containing ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator’)
  • The Magic Finger
  • Fantastic Mr Fox
  • The Twits
  • George’s Marvellous Medicine
  • The Witches
  • The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me
  • Boy and Going Solo
  • Matilda
  • Esio Trot

I know that they are children’s books, but I’m using the excuse that they are classic examples of children’s literature, and so can still be read by adults. Anyway, I like Roald Dahl, and want to read them again. Don’t judge me!

 

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Thoughts on Penelope Lively’s ‘Heat Wave’

heat wave - penelope lively

I will admit that when I started this book, I really didn’t enjoy it, and disliked the first three or four chapters. To begin with, I was slightly dubious of the use of the present tense, and found the whole writing style that Lively employs incredibly pretentious, over-wrought and somewhat anal in its faux importance with itself. However, several chapters in, the text suddenly hit me, and from then until the end of the book, I was in love with every word.

I think that one of the main problems had been the fact that I’d read Hemingway’s ‘The Torrent’s of Spring’ a week or so prior, and was greatly aware of the repeated use of empty questions such as “Why did she feel like that?” or “When would her feelings for him end?” (I’ve made those question up- they aren’t quite the same in ‘Heat Wave’, but you get the idea). However, after a while they managed here to drag me into the story rather than alienate me from it, and as with the Hemingway work, they just became a part of the book’s charm.

The way in which the narrative flits between the present and the past does get slightly confusing and irritating in parts, but on the whole this is done well, and to be fair, I can’t fault Lively on the way in which she evokes memory and the nuances of emotion and feeling that cross an individual’s thoughts when they think about the past- or indeed confront the present. The plot was not the best and most developed that I have ever read, but the tangents taken into the past of Pauline, the lead protagonist, and Harry her ex-husband flesh out the plot by several orders of magnitude. Also, the descriptions used by Lively make the fairly simple plot both page-turning and magnificently well executed, with the present tense coming into its own in the flash-back scenes in order to show how the actions of the past can morph and merge into the present, and make time fragile and unstable in the human mind.

The present tense also places the reader in the midst of the spiraling and rapidly escalating action of the final scenes, which I won’t reveal, but which do work to genuinely shock the reader. I did find the turn faintly predictable, but this didn’t lessen its impact as I read, and managed to keep me captivated.

I do have more to say on this work, but will leave it here for now. It’s taken me a good few months to get this post up, and as I’ve said in several posts, I’m magnificently behind on my book reviews. However, despite the delay, I can’t recommend this book more highly, and can honestly say that it will appear on my list of favourite books when I get round to posting it.

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Rob Pointon: A Stoke-on-Trent artist in Oxford

As you may know if you have been reading my blog for any length of time, I originate from Stoke-on-Trent, and have moved back here with my partner and children following three years studying in Oxford (which I now consider to be home). Well, before going to uni, I was aware of a local artist working in Stoke named Rob Pointon, whose artwork I greatly admire for its skill, Impressionist style, and fantastic distortion of images to create effects akin to a fish-eye lens. However, it seems that in these three years, his career has really taken off, with exhibitions being hosted in many cities across the UK and abroad, his artwork being displayed all around Burslem (my hometown within the City of Stoke-on-Trent), and canvases owned by HRH The Prince of Wales and the Her Grace Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire. Well, I recently came across an image that he produced at the top of the Saxon church tower of St. Michael at the North Gate in Oxford, and a few days ago another, painted inside the Divinity School of the Bodleian Library.

View of Cornmarket Street from the tower of St. Michael at the North Gate, Oxford, by Rob Pointon

View of Cornmarket Street from the tower of St. Michael at the North Gate, Oxford, by Rob Pointon

Interior of the Divinity School, Bodleian Library, Oxford, by Rob Pointon

Interior of the Divinity School, Bodleian Library, Oxford, by Rob Pointon

I just thought that I’d share these, because I think they are wonderful images, and blend nicely the two places that have made my family who we are. You can follow Rob’s most recent projects here: www.robpointon.co.uk

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A big thumbs up to Google- Winter Olympics 2014

It can’t have escaped the attention of many people that the XXII Winter Olympics have begun in Sotchi, Russia, and that there has been a large amount of tension due to the ridiculous, barbaric and utterly repulsive anti-homosexuality laws that their ruling dictatorship has put in place. So yesterday I was impressed and warmed by the actions of Google, who in their usual fashion produced a ‘Google Doodle’ to celebrate the opening of the games, but which looked like this:

2014-winter-olympics-

Image: google.co.uk

In an incredibly bold move, they used the colours of the LGBT flag as the background to the Doodle, blatently showing their support for all athletes, irrespective of their sexuality. Similarly, the broadcaster of the Winter Games in the UK, Channel 4, have had a rebrand for all of their coverage:

Channel 4 LGBT

Image: theguardian.com

Indeed, Channel 4 have gone even further, placing an advert at the beginning of all of their coverage with a cabaret singer performing a song that celebrates diversity and wishes the athletes of any orientation good luck in the games. It is insanely camp, but a rather disturbing and yet joyful two-fingers to those who have a problem with other people on shallow and prejudiced grounds.

However, the biggest thumbs up has to go to the German athletes, who entered the Winter Olympic stadium like this:

Image: huffingtonpost.com

Image: huffingtonpost.com

They are not following the LGBT flag exactly, but you can see where they are going with this, and it seems that the rest of the world was clear on the message that the team were giving.

In 2014, there is little room for such intolerance, prejudice, small-mindedness and simple hatred of our fellow human beings. Hopefully through such bold acts as these, certain individuals and groups may open their eyes to the reality of our present world, where people and nations are valued for who they are and who they can be, rather than judged on baseless propaganda and hatred for not conforming and being different. We all know where it got us in WWII, when prejudice and irrationality took hold over common sense, compassion, decency and morality.

To end, a quote from the Olympic Charter, which accompanied the Google Doodle on Google’s homepage yesterday:

 “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

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New purchases

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I was actually going to have put this post up yesterday, but if I had, then I’d have had to post another today, as I got the last 5 of these books this afternoon. In all, these are:

  • Three Victorian Poets (containing poems by Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Robert Browning)     50p
  • Timothy Donnelly –  The Cloud Corporation (poetry)     50p
  • Anthony Burgess –  The Devil’s Mode     50p
  • Daphne Du Maurier –  The Birds & other stories     £1.49
  • Ernest Hemingway –  A Farewell to Arms     50p
  • Jane Austen –  Pride and Prejudice     50p
  • Jeanette Winterson –  Written on the Body     50p
  • Virginia Woolf –  Mrs Dalloway     99p
  • Jack Kerouac –  Maggie Cassidy     99p

The first book of poems is actually a student book, with activities and questions in, and has been annotated, but I got it simply because there are two of Robert Browning’s poems in it (‘My Last Duchess’ and ‘The Laboratory’) that both my partner and I studied at high school.

Also, I do already own a Wordsworth Classics edition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (which I have read), but this one is an Oxford University Press edition (always a bonus) and matches the copy of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ that I got a few weeks ago (see my previous post). Similarly, the copy of ‘Mrs Dalloway’ that I bought today is also an Oxford University Press edition, and makes up somewhat for the fact that I missed out on a copy of this about a month ago. Annoyingly, that one was ony 25p. Ho-hum.

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The baby who was unaware it was born

The word ‘caul’ means ‘helmeted head’ or ‘veil’, and is used to refer to the piece of amniotic sack that can occasionally stay attached to a baby’s head upon delivery. In the mediaeval period, being born ‘with the caul’ was seen as an indicator of good luck and a sign that the child was destined for greatness, and it may have also been believed to protect the child from evil. More recently, the caul was preserved (if present) by pressing a piece of paper against the membrane, and saved as an heirloom. It is thought that any birth involving the caul occurs once in every 80,000 births, but in some extremely rare cases, a child may be born ‘en caul’. This is where a baby is delivered entirely encased in the amniotic sack due to the waters not breaking, and the baby acts as though it is still inside the womb, being totally unaware that it has been born.

A case of this occurred during a Caesarian Section recently in Greece, and the obstetrician Dr Aris Tsigris posted this image on Facebook:

caesarean in sack

Image: SaludMedica

Having witnessed birth first-hand, this is an intense, emotional and exquisite moment, and I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to witness this- just to see your child as they are in the womb with your own eyes and without the aid of a camera or scan must be utterly breathtaking. I’m sure that for one parent, this is a moment that will stay with them forever and a day. It will definitely stay with me.

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Another library booksale

Again, our two children came out best from this latest sale at one of our local libraries, getting well into double-figures for only a few pounds. However, I did manage to get a few (the last two are not from the library though):

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  • Vladimir Nabokov –  King, Queen, Knave     25p
  • Christopher Hope –  The Love Songs of Nathan J. Swirsky     25p
  • John Preston –  The Dig     25p
  • Ian McEwan –  On Chesil Beach     25p
  • John Steinbeck –  Of Mice and Men     £1
  • Philip K. Dick –  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?     £1.50

I’ve already read ‘Of Mice and Men’, as I studied it at GCSE, but have never had my own copy until now, and the Preston book ‘The Dig’ is a fictional account of the discovery of Sutton Hoo in 1939. I have to commend the cover of the Nabokov book, too, as it is in the same vein as the ‘Just So Stories’ cover that I was so taken by in my ‘Thoughts on…’ post a few months back. Here it is in more detail:

king queen knave

 

I just love the simplicity of the image, on what is already a simple design (the 2000’s Penguin Modern Classics silver-stripe covers). It doesn’t have the playfulness of the ‘Just So Stories’ cover, with the swinging leopard’s tail, but I still think that this is a perfect example of less-is-more.

I’m also slightly annoyed with myself for buying the McEwan book, as I’ve said for a while that I’d never buy any of his simply because they seem to me to be too populist, but I didn’t think that I could argue with 25p. To be fair, the Classics that I am so enamoured of are only such due to being ‘popular’, but I tend to think of McEwan’s books to not be overly literary, due in part to them having won all of the awards that are over-hyped and over-biased. Anyway- only reading it will tell me whether it was a good move or not, and I will probably end up loving it and needing to buy all of his other books too. Probably.

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Interesting stats

I find it rather interesting that in January of this year, I only published 4 posts on this blog (my fewest so far) and yet I had almost double the views compared with December 2013. That puts a bit of pressure on myself to improve on this over February, and so I’d better get posting to increase my chances of getting more views! I think I better get those book reviews sorted, as I’m WAY behind on these! Expect some content soon!

views jan 2014

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