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Archive for February, 2012

The Marlborough Downs is to be part of a government project to create wildlife havens.

Twelve places out of 76 in England that applied to become Nature Improvement Areas have been chosen.

Defra said establishing dewponds would encourage birds, newts and other amphibians

Defra said establishing dewponds would encourage birds, newts and other amphibians

The project aims to restore habitats and encourage local communities to get involved with nature.

The work will be carried out by partnerships involving community groups, conservation organisations and landowners.

The 12 areas will share £7.5m of government funding.

Defra said establishing dewponds would encourage birds, newts and other amphibians and help re-establish viable grazing.

The Wiltshire project is the only farmer-led scheme in the country to have won government funding.

‘Educating people’

Environment Minister Richard Benyon visited the site on Monday.

He said: “We’re standing beside a classic Wiltshire downs dewpond.

“What’s really exciting about what we’re announcing today is that this is going to be a feature people will see right across the Wiltshire downs.”

Chris Musgrave, estate manager at Temple farm in Rockley, near Marlborough, said: “All 41 farmers said they would be interested in joining together in terms of having wildlife corridors running through their estates, dewponds linking chalk grassland and also involving the community as well.

“I think if you were walking down the Ridgeway, which is a spine going right through this area, you would see dewponds, you would see wildlife corridors.

“It’s educating people, it’s getting people involved.”

Link source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-17176283

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Around 8,000 years ago, prehistoric hunters killed an aurochs and their grilling techniques were frozen in time.

THE GIST

Remains of a butchered and cooked female aurochs (a prehistoric cow) have been identified from a Stone Age Netherlands site.
The hunters appear to have cooked the meat over an open fire, eating the bone marrow first and then the ribs.
Aurochs hunting was common at the site for many years, but humans drove the large horned animals to extinction

aurochs bones AmesburyStone Age barbecue consumers first went for the bone marrow and then for the ribs, suggest the leftovers of an outdoor 7,700-year-old meaty feast described in the July issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The remains, found in the valley of the River Tjonger, Netherlands, provide direct evidence for a prehistoric hunting, butchering, cooking and feasting event. The meal occurred more than 1,000 years before the first farmers with domestic cattle arrived in the region.

Although basic BBQ technology hasn’t changed much over the millennia, this prehistoric meal centered around the flesh of an aurochs, a wild Eurasian ox that was larger than today’s cows. It sported distinctive curved horns.

Another big difference is how meat was obtained then.

NEWS: Mammoths Roasted in Prehistoric Kitchen Pit

“The animal was either caught in a pitfall trap and then clubbed on the head, or shot with a bow and arrow with flint point,” co-author Wietske Prummel, an associate professor of archaeozoology at the University of Groningen, told Discovery News.

Prummel and colleague Marcel Niekus pieced together what happened by studying an unearthed flint blade found near aurochs bones. These show that after the female aurochs was killed, hunters cut its legs off and sucked out the marrow.

According to the study, the individuals skinned the animal and butchered it, reserving the skin and large hunks of meat for carrying back to a nearby settlement. Chop marks left behind by the flint blade show how the meat was meticulously separated from the bones and removed.

Burn marks reveal that the hunters cooked the meaty ribs, and probably other smaller parts, over an open fire. They ate them right at the site, “their reward for the successful kill,” Prummel said.

The blade, perhaps worn down from so much cutting, was left behind and wound up slightly scorched in the cooking fire.

Niekus told Discovery News, “The people who killed the animal lived during the Late Mesolithic (the latter part of the middle Stone Age). They were hunter-gatherers and hunting game was an important part of their subsistence activities.”

The researchers suspect these people lived in large settlements and frequented the Tjonger location for aurochs hunting. After the Iron Age, the area was only sparsely inhabited — probably due to the region becoming temporarily waterlogged — until the Late Medieval period.

NEWS: Pre-Stonehenge Megaliths Linked to Death Rituals

Aurochs must have been good eats for Stone Age human meat lovers, since other prehistoric evidence also points to hunting, butchering and feasting on these animals. A few German sites have yielded aurochs bones next to flint tool artifacts.

Aurochs bones have also been excavated at early dwellings throughout Europe. Bones for red deer, roe deer, wild boar and elk were even more common, perhaps because the aurochs was such a large, imposing animal and the hunters weren’t always successful at killing it.

At a Mesolithic site in Onnarp, Sweden, for example, scientists found the remains of aurochs that had been shot with arrows. The wounded animals escaped their pursuers before later dying in a swamp.

The aurochs couldn’t escape extinction, though.

“It became extinct due to the destruction of the habitat of the aurochs since the arrival of the first farmers in Europe about 7500 years ago,” Prummel said. “These farmers used the area inhabited by aurochs for their dwellings, arable fields and meadows. The aurochs gradually lost suitable habitat.”

The last aurochs died in 1627 at a zoo in Poland.

Source: http://news.discovery.com/history/ancient-barbeque-aurochs-110627.html

HisTOURies – The Best of Wiltshire History 

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An archaeological excavation currently being undertaken by Context One, on behalf of Ashford Homes, on the corner of Bathwick Street and Henrietta Road, Bathwick, have uncovered the remains of several Roman structures with associated features, as well as a Roman road surface.

Based on some of the finds recovered so far, it appears to be an early Roman site. A preliminary look at the structures suggests we’ve discovered at least one dwelling, divided into both domestic and industrial areas, the latter comprise various external surfaces and boundary walls.

We have also revealed a Roman road crossing the site. This is constructed from a number of layers that have built up over some time, suggesting the road was in continued use. Several exterior (possible yard) surfaces have also been uncovered adjacent to the road.

A large number of smaller features (including various pits) have been revealed during the initial cleaning of the site. Whilst some of these almost certainly post-date the structures and road surface, others may prove to be contemporary.

We are in the initial stages of our investigation and are likely to be on site for at least the next month. Updates on our progress will be forwarded to the local press but for more immediate information we will be posting here on their website. http://www.contextone.co.uk

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While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial–which probably occurred around A.D. 270–others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

 

The Legend of St. Valentine

The history of Valentine’s Day–and the story of its patron saint–is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient rite?

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Link Source: http://www.history.com/topics/valentines-day

Happy Valentines Day

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For a 200-year-old literary figure, Charles Dickens has much to say about the issues of today.

So believes Queen’s University English Prof. Robert Morrison, who says Dickens — born Feb. 7, 1812 — was both a man of his times and a forward-thinker.

In his many novels — including such classics as “A Christmas Carol,” “David Copperfield” and “Oliver Twist” — Dickens wrote about issues that still resonate today.

Morrison says Dickens brought attention to child poverty, over-population, environmental degradation and greed.

The popular storyteller’s 200th birthday is being celebrated Tuesday by admirers around the world.

Morrison says Dickens, who visited Canada briefly while on a reading tour, was the most popular author of his day and known world-wide.

“He is a man of his time but … he does map in a lot of what still preoccupies us today.”

“One of the things that I find really compelling about Dickens is his discussion of and sympathy for the vulnerable in society, especially children.”

Dickens was able to depict 19th-century Britain as a powerful country at the forefront of progress and technology, Morrison said.

But as Dickens so cleverly put it: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

“There’s a tremendous amount of wealth and there are a whole bunch of people who are not sharing in any of it,” said Morrison.

“That alienation and sadness in the lower classes among poor people, Dickens gives these people an incredibly powerful voice.”

While a master at creating entertaining stories, comical characters and biting caricatures, the 19th-century writer also had his finger on the pulse of his times, says Morrison.

“Dickens represents alienation and poverty with a vividness and a chillingness that is remarkable. He really is very socially minded.”

Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca

HisTOURies UK – Who the Dickens

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A Viking axe head found in a Gloucestershire village could be evidence of a battle more than 1,100 years ago, according to archaeologists.

The wrought iron object, found in Slimbridge in 2008, has now been identified as being of Viking origin.

Archaeologists think the axe head could be evidence of a battle in 894 AD

Archaeologists think the axe head could be evidence of a battle in 894 AD

Historians say a band of Vikings sailed up the River Severn and fought against the Anglo-Saxons in 894 AD.

Archaeologists say where the axe head was found is where they could have tied up their ships.

It was discovered by Ian Hunter Darling under a hedge in his garden.

Bloody battle

“I couldn’t believe what I saw. I thought it could have been an agricultural implement of some description,” he said.

He said an archaeological visit to the the farm where he lives had got the experts “quite excited”.

“They said I should take it to a museum to have it looked at.”

According to historians King Alfred the Great fought the Vikings in a bloody battle at Minchinhampton, about 10 miles from Slimbridge, in 894 AD.

Three Viking princes were killed in the battle, and fighting could have ranged over a wide area of the Berkeley Vale.

For over a century archaeologists have speculated where the Vikings could have moored their ships.

“They realised my driveway would have been creek in those days before there was a sea wall on the River Severn,” said Mr Hunter Darling.

“The boats could have tied up at the bottom of my garden.”

‘Viking sword’

Members of Slimbridge local history society now want to gather further evidence of Viking activity in the village.

Peter Ballard, from the society, said: “A member of a local family claimed he found a Viking sword in a ditch by the River Cam many years ago, but that has now been lost.”

They are asking for residents who may have found other Viking objects to come forward.

A meeting to highlight the importance of the discovery will be held in Slimbridge Village Hall on 21 February.

The axe head is to go on display at Stroud Museum in the Park.

Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-gloucestershire-16829808

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For 24 hours, on the last Tuesday of January, the town of Lerwick goes more than a little mad.

uphellyaa-shetland-festival“There will be no postponement for weather”. That’s a defiant boast by Shetland’s biggest fire festival, considering it’s held in mid-winter on the same latitude as southern Greenland. But it’s true: gales, sleet and snow have never yet stopped the Up Helly Aa guizers of Lerwick from burning their Viking galley – and then dancing the dawn away.

Amazing Blaze

Up Helly Aa is a lot more than a sub-arctic bonfire and booze-up. It’s a superb spectacle, a celebration of Shetland history, and a triumphant demonstration of the islanders’ skills and spirit. This northern Mardi Gras lasts just one day (and night). But it takes several thousand people 364 days to organise. Much of the preparation is in strictest secrecy. The biggest secret of all is what the head of the festival, the ‘Guizer Jarl’, will wear and which character from the Norse Sagas he’ll represent.

The Guy’s A Jarl!

The Jarl will have been planning (and saving up for) the longest day of his life for 12 years or more, before he dons his raven-winged helmet, grabs axe and shield, and embarks on a 24-hour sleepless marathon.

On the evening of Up Helly Aa Day, over 800 heavily-disguised men (no women, thank you, we’re vikings!) form ranks in the darkened streets. They shoulder stout fencing posts, topped with paraffin-soaked sacking.

On the stroke of 7.30pm, a signal rocket bursts over the Town Hall. The torches are lit, the band strikes up and the amazing, blazing procession begins, snaking half a mile astern of the Guizer Jarl, standing proudly at the helm of his doomed replica longship, or ‘galley’.

It takes half an hour for the Jarl’s squad of burly Vikings to drag him to the burning site, through a crowd of four or five thousand spectators.

Amazing Blazing

The guizers circle the dragon ship in a slow-motion Catherine Wheel of fire. Another rocket explodes overhead. The Jarl leaves his ship, to a crescendo of cheers. A bugle call sounds, and then the torches are hurled into the galley.

As the inferno destroys four months of painstaking work by the galley builders, the crowd sings ‘The Norseman’s Home’ – a stirring requiem that can brings tear to the eyes of the hardiest Viking.

The Procession

Tears of mirth are more likely as the night rolls on and more than 40 squads of guizers visit a dozen halls in rotation. They’re all invited guests at what are still private parties – apart from a couple of halls where tickets are on sale to the general public.

At every hall each squad performs its ‘act’, perhaps a skit on local events, a dance display in spectacular costume, or a topical send-up of a popular TV show or pop group.

 Every guizer has a duty (as the ‘Up Helly Aa Song’ says) to dance with at least one of the ladies in the hall, before taking yet another dram, soaked up with vast quantities of mutton soup and bannocks.

The All-Nighter to End All-Nighters

It’s a fast and furious night – and a lucky guizer who arrives home with a completely clear head before 8.30am the next morning which, not surprisingly, is a public holiday. Lerwick’s a ghost town but by evening the hardier merrymakers are out dancing again, this time at the ‘Guizer’s Hop’.

The Burning Galley

That’s not the end of it, for throughout the rest of the winter each gang of guizers will hold their own ‘squad dances’ for family and friends. By early autumn, there’ll be the first meetings to arrange the next year’s performance, while at the Galley Shed in St Sunniva Street the shipwrights, carpenters and their helpers will be starting work on the new galley, not forgetting ‘the boys who made the torches’.

‘From grand old Viking centuries, Up Helly Aa has come…’ That’s what the guizers sing but in fact the festival is only just over 100 years old in its present, highly organised form. In the 19th century Up Helly Aa was often riotous. Special constables were called in to curb trigger-happy drunks firing guns in the air – and dragging a blazing tar barrel through the streets, sometimes leaving it on the doorstep of the year’s least popular worthy burgher. Today’s festival is much better behaved.

Fire, Feasting and Fancy Dress

The ingredients in the Up Helly Aa recipe go back 12 centuries and more – fire, feasting, fancy dress and, above all, fun. The torchlit procession and galley burning echo pagan Norse rituals at the cremation of great chieftains, and religious ceremonies to mark the Sun’s return after the winter solstice.

Elaborate disguise was part of prehistoric fertility rites. Mediaeval Shetland guizers were called ‘skeklers’ and wore costumes of straw. The feasting and dancing continue saga traditions from the winter drinking halls of Viking warriors, while the satirical ‘Bill’ or proclamation, lampooning local worthies and fixed to the Lerwick Market Cross on Up Helly Aa morning, has precedents in the sharp wit of the Norse skalds.

If you should miss the Lerwick Up Helly Aa (or if it gives you the taste for more of the same), don’t despair – there are another eight fire festivals in various districts of Shetland during the late winter.

And the country Up Hellies A’ do NOT ban women from being torch-bearers and guizers. Don’t mention that in Lerwick, though – where the men-only rule is a ticklish topic in these politically correct days.

The Up Helly Aa Exhibition in the Galley Shed, St Sunniva Street, Lerwick, welcomes visitors. Shetland Museum also has extensive photographic archives of the festival.

For more information please visit the dedicated Up Helly Aa website.

Rural Up Helly Aa Celebrations:

Scalloway – 13th January 2012
Nesting – 3rd February 2012
Uyeasound, Unst – 10th February 2012
Northmavine – 17th February 2012
Bressay – 24th February 2012
Cullivoe, Yell – 24th February 2012
Norwick, Unst – 25th February 2012
South Mainland – 9th March 2012
Brae – 16th March 2012

Histouries UK

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