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A new find in the region surrounding the Ring of Brodgar, a stone-pillar construction mounted atop a sloping terrain, has overthrown the scientific conception of Stone Age life in the British Isles. Archeologists have uncovered a six-acre temple complex of painted stone and paved walkways, which was built five thousand years ago—before the pyramids of Egypt or even Stonehenge.

Archaeologists excavate the ruins. Photo: Susan van Gelder

Archaeologists excavate the ruins. Photo: Susan van Gelder

As Robin McKie writes in The Guardian, although the Ring of Brodgar has long been a focus of archeological excavation, a geophysical survey of the Ness of Brodgar, the region around the temple, “revealed that for all their attention, scientists had completely overlooked a Neolithic treasure that utterly eclipses all others on Orkney – and in the rest of Europe.”

What archaeologists thought to be a natural moraine, a pile of dirt and rock left over by a receding glacier, turned out to be much more. Buried beneath the dirt were “two giant walls, each more than 100m long and 4m high.” Within these walls, says McKie,

[T]he complex at Ness contained more than a dozen large temples – one measured almost 25m square – that were linked to outhouses and kitchens by carefully constructed stone pavements. The bones of sacrificed cattle, elegantly made pottery and pieces of painted ceramics lie scattered round the site. The exact purpose of the complex is a mystery, though it is clearly ancient. Some parts were constructed more than 5,000 years ago.

According to scientists working on the dig, the findings suggest the northern Orkney Islands may be spawning point for much of Stone Age British culture. As Nick Card with the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology told The Guardian,

Orkney was the centre for innovation for the British isles. Ideas spread from this place. The first grooved pottery, which is so distinctive of the era, was made here, for example, and the first henges – stone rings with ditches round them – were erected on Orkney. Then the ideas spread to the rest of the Neolithic Britain. This was the font for new thinking at the time.

Full Article: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews/2012/10/archaeologists-uncover-massive-stone-age-complex-in-scotland/

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My local shops are already full of spooky masks, cobwebs and halloween paraphernalia. I just wanted to remind people of the ancient origins of this Celtic Festival.

Halloween or Hallowe’en is now celebrated across the world on the night of 31st October. Modern day celebrations generally involve groups of children dressed in scary costumes roaming from house to house, demanding “trick-or-treat”. Fearing the worst, intimidated householders normally hand over vast amounts of treats in the form of chocolates, sweets and candy to avoid whatever dastardly tricks may have been dreamt up by these little miscreants. The origins of these celebrations however date back thousands of years, to pagan times.

The origins of Halloween can be traced back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. Until 2,000 years ago, the Celts lived across the lands we now know as Britain, Ireland and northern France. Essentially a farming and agricultural people, the Pre-Christian Celtic year was determined by the growing seasons and Samhain marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark cold winter. The festival symbolised the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

Massacre of the Druids

It was believed by the Celts that on the night of 31st October, ghosts of their dead would revisit the mortal world and large bonfires were lit in each village in order to ward off any evil spirits that may also be at large. Celtic priests, known as Druids, would have led the Samhain celebrations. It would also have been the Druids who ensured that the hearth fire of each house was re-lit from the glowing embers of the sacred bonfire, in order to help protect the people and keep them warm through the forthcoming long, dark winter months.

The Romans conquered much of the Celtic tribal lands when they invaded from mainland Europe in 43 AD, and over the next four hundred years of occupation and rule, they appear to have assimilated many of their own celebrations into the existing Celtic festivals. One such example may help to explain the current Halloween tradition of ‘bobbing’ for apples. The Roman goddess of fruit and trees was known as Pomona (pictured to the right), and her symbol just happened to have been that of the apple.

As the Romans moved out of Britain in the early 5th century, so a new set of conquerors began to move in. First Saxon warriors raided England’s south and east coasts. Following these early Saxon raids, from around AD430 a host of Germanic migrants arrived in east and southeast England, including Jutes from the Jutland peninsula (modern Denmark), Angles from Angeln in southwest Jutland and the Saxons from northwest Germany. The native Celtic tribes were pushed to the northern and western extremes of Britain, to present day Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, Cumbria and the Isle of Man.

In the decades that followed, Britain was also invaded by a new religion. Christian teaching and faith was arriving, spreading inwards from those northern and western extremities from the early Celtic Church, and up from Kent with the arrival of Saint Augustine from Rome in AD597. Along with the Christians arrived the Christian Festivals and amongst them “All Hallows’ Day”, also known as “All Saints Day”, a day to remember those who had died for their beliefs.

Originally celebrated on 13th May, it was Pope Gregory who had the date of the All Hallows’ feast moved to 1st November sometime in the 8th century. It is thought that in doing so, he was attempting to replace or assimilate the Celtic Samhain festival of the dead with a related but church approved celebration.

The night or evening of Samhain therefore became known as All-hallows-even then Hallow Eve, still later Hallowe’en and then of course Halloween. A special time of the year when many believe that the spirit world can make contact with the physical world, a night when magic is at its most potent.

Throughout Britain, Halloween has traditionally been celebrated by children’s games such as bobbing for apples in containers full of water, telling ghost stories and the carving of faces into hollowed-out vegetables such as swedes and turnips. These faces would usually be illuminated from within by a candle, the lanterns displayed on window sills to ward off any evil spirits. The current use of pumpkins is a relatively modern innovation imported from the United States, and we can also extend the same debt of gratitude to our friends in America for that ‘quaint’ “trick-or-treat” tradition!

Link source: http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Halloween/
Link: http://www.history.com/topics/halloween

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Archaeologists hunting for the remains of King Richard III may have made a crucial breakthrough – after finding human remains in the ruins of a medieval friary underneath a modern-day car park.

A team from Leicester University, which has been digging in the city centre, will today announce what it claims is “a dramatic development in the search for crucial breakthrough – after finding human remains in the ruins of a medieval friary underneath a modern-day car park.

A team from Leicester University, which has been digging in the city centre, will today announce what it claims is “a dramatic development in the search for Richard III”.

Last month, archaeologists began searching for the body of the last king of the House of York, who was defeated in battle by a Lancastrian army in 1485. They have unearthed the site of a Franciscan friary in Leicester called Grey Friars, and also believe they have found the burial place of Richard – a church – where human remains were found. The DNA material will be tested to see if matches that of a 17th-generation descendent of the monarch’s sister.
NICK CLARK – http://www.independent.co.uk

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Richard Taylor, a spokesman for the university, said: “What we have uncovered is truly remarkable”.

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Beginning at sundown on the eve of July 31st to sundown on August 1st

The Celtic Harvest Festival – Lughnasadh – also known as Lammas – is a harvest celebration beginning at sundown on the eve of the 31st of July until sundown on August 1st and derives its name from the Irish God Lugh. In Wales, this time is known simply as Gwl Awst, the August Feast. Lugh is associated with the power of sun and light, and so fires were burned in honor of Him on this day. In addition to His associations with light, Lugh is a God of Skill and Craft, a master of all human skills. On this His feast day, it is particularly appropriate that we celebrate our own abilities and skills.

“Celtic Festival of the first fruits and ripening corn “

Lugh dedicated this Celtic festival to his foster-mother, Tailtiu, the last queen of the Fir Bolg, who died from fatigue after working and clearing a great forest so that the land could be cultivated. When the men of Ireland gathered at her death-bed, she told them to hold funeral games and celebrations in her honor. As long as they were held, she prophesied Ireland would not be without song.

Lammas (was christianized as Lammas:  the word ‘Lammas’ is an Old English word meaning ‘Loaf Mass’) celebrates the first harvesting of crops, the first of three harvest festivals.  The Earth yields up Her first gifts to us … a blessing from the Mother and the product of our human hands.  It is a time to celebrate the fruitfulness of the Earth and fruits of our labors.  We have sown and nurtured, and now we are reaping the benefits in rhythm with the Earth.  In later times, the festival of Lughnasadh, but in rural areas it was often remembered as “Bilberry Sunday,” the people would gather the earth’s freely-given gifts of black berries.  As well people sang and danced jigs and reels to the music of melodeons, fiddles and flutes, and held uproarious sporting contests and races.

Corn, grains and berries are of particular significance at this holiday (see recipes below from corn, flour and grains).  Traditionally, the newly harvested grain is made into bread to be shared with all in this celebration.  Fruits and vegetables are ripe and ready for canning and preserving.  We celebrate and partake in the fullness of the Earth while beginning to make provision for the cold months ahead.

This was also an occasion for handfasting and displaying of their skills and specialized crafts.  Through the centuries, Ireland’s country-people have celebrated the harvest at revels, wakes and country fairs. Some still continue this festival today with an entertaining manner and it is usually celebrated on the nearest Sunday to August 1st, as so that a whole day could be set aside from work.

It is a time to ask ourselves:  “What are my talents?  What are my skills?   How do I express my creativity?  How do I use my abilities to re-craft my world … to add beauty …. color … richness?  Our skills may include woodworking, designing, creating, sewing and needlecraft, art, music, dance, sports or communication, organizing, healing, parenting, problem solving etc.  Whatever our talents or abilities, this is a time to recognize them and honor them, and to share our recognition of the talents and abilities of others around us.  If you have had an interest or urge to develop a particular skill or creative outlet, now might be the time to make a pledge or commitment to yourself to pursue your interest.  By offering the fruits of our labors back to the Universe we enrich both ourselves and our world.

Because Lughnasadh is a celebration of the new harvest, people cooked special ritual foods and festive meals.  If you are curious about this historic celebration and the abundance of foods prepared, please search the internet. It is a wonderful time to celebrate the abundance we receive from mother earth and be with our special loved ones.

Lammas Traditions

Lammastide was the traditional time when craft fairs and pageants were held. Long Summer evenings are beginning to get shorter.
In Ireland Lammas is traditionally a time for buying and selling, horse trading and music.
The ‘Oul Lammas Fair’, Ireland’s oldest traditional market fair, which takes place in Ballycastle, Co Antrim on the last Monday and Tuesday in August, attracts people in their thousands at festival time.

Saint Catherine was celebrated – ‘ The Catherine Wheel’ came from the Pagan rites when a wagon wheel would be tarred, set on fire and rolled down a hill – symbolizing the decline of the Sun God as the seasos wheel turns to Autumn Equinox. If the wheel went out before it reached the bottom – poor harvest, abundant if it remained lit.

St. Ciaran’s Well, Clonmacnois, County Meath – pilgrims go with torches at midnight on the first sunday in August – looking for a trout. The sun was believed to live in holy wells during the night.

Celts erected temporary hills to celebrate the harvest festival of Lammas. In Ireland a girl would be seated on the hill-top, garlanded with flowers and proclaimed the goddess of the hill. Celts would climb hills to pray to the gods and gather bilberries at Lammas.
The raising up of Celtic crosses onto stone steps recalls the Lammas tradition – Perrons – a type of man-made holy terraced mountain.

Making of the Corn Dolly from the best ears of corn taken from the last sheaf to be harvested.
This was usually kept hanging over the hearth to bring good luck, and the seeds were added to the new seeds in the Spring.

Link: http://www.mysticfamiliar.com/library/witchcraft/lughnasadh.html
L
ink: http://www.new-age.co.uk/celtic-festivals-lammas.

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image: [ Morris men making merry ]

In medieval times, May Day was often celebrated by young men and women dancing on the village green around a specially-decorated tree called a maypole.

The branches of a slender tree were cut off, coloured ribbons tied to the top and the revellers held on to the ends of the ribbons and danced. Some villages still carry on the tradition today.

Before the dancing began there was also a procession led by a woman appointed May Queen for the day. Sometimes she was accompanied by a May King, who dressed in green to symbolise springtime and fertility.


[ image: The maypole was a symbol of fertility]
The maypole was a symbol of fertility

In Germany, it was the tradition that a fir tree was cut down on May Eve by young unmarried men. The branches were removed and it was decorated and set up in village square. The tree was guarded all night to prevent it being stolen by the men of a neighbouring village. If the guard was foolish enough to fall asleep the going ransom rate for a maypole was a good meal and a barrel of beer.

A similar festival existed in ancient Rome called Floralia, which took place at around the end of April and was dedicated to the Flower Goddess Flora. On May 1, offerings were made the goddess Maia, after which the month of May is named.

Pagan groups call the fertility festival by its Celtic name of Beltane.

The church in the middle ages tolerated the May Day celebrations but the Protestant Reformation of the 17th century soon put a stop to them. The Puritans were outraged at the immorality that often accompanied the drinking and dancing – and Parliament banned maypoles altogether in 1644.

But when Charles II was restored to the throne a few years later, people all over the country put up maypoles as a celebration and a sign of loyalty to the crown.

May Day had a boost in popularity again in the 19th century when the Victorians seized on it as a “rustic delight”. But many of the significant pagan aspects of the day were ignored by our strait-laced ancestors and instead of a fertility rite, dancing around the maypole became a children’s game.

For traditionalists other things to do on May Day include getting up before dawn and going outside to wash your face in dew – according to folklore this keeps the complexion beautiful.

“Bringing in the May” also involves getting up very early, gathering flowers, making them into garlands and then giving them to your friends to wear. If you are feeling particularly charitable, folklore advises that it is good time to make up a “May basket” of flowers to take to someone who needs cheering up.

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St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17th, the saint’s religious feast day and the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. On St. Patrick’s Day, which falls during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink and feast–on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.

St. Patrick and the First St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Saint Patrick, who lived during the fifth century, is the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland. Born in Roman Britain, he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16. He later escaped, but returned to Ireland and was credited with bringing Christianity to its people. In the centuries following Patrick’s death (believed to have been on March 17, 461), the mythology surrounding his life became ever more ingrained in the Irish culture: Perhaps the most well known legend is that he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) using the three leaves of a native Irish clover, the shamrock.

Since around the ninth or 10th century, people in Ireland have been observing the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Patrick on March 17. Interestingly, however, the first parade held to honor St. Patrick’s Day took place not in Ireland but in the United States. On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched throughNew York City. Along with their music, the parade helped the soldiers reconnect with their Irish roots, as well as with fellow Irishmen serving in the English army.

Source: http://www.history.com

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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

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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

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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

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A huge winter solstice feast might have taken place around Stonehenge some 4,500 years ago.

Abundant cattle and pig bones recently unearthed a few miles from the megalithic site suggest that prehistoric people celebrated the connection between the stone circle and the sky with hundreds of roasts.
Stonehenge

According to initial research led by Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield, U.K., the animals were walked from different places and for hundreds of miles to be slaughtered immediately after arrival at Durrington Walls, a massive circular earthwork, or henge, two miles northeast of Stonehenge. 

Parker Pearson’s research has shown that this site attracted people in droves as far back as Neolithic times.

“The considerable quantities of pig and cattle bones, pottery, flint arrowheads and lithic debris indicate that occupation and consumption were intense,” wrote Parker Pearson, who has was awarded a grant of £750,000 to analyse a range of materials found at the site.

So far, the archaeologist has found no evidence that Durrington was permanently inhabited. He believes that the intense human activity was linked to feasting during the solstices.

“The small quantities of stone tools other than arrowheads, the absence of grinding querns and the lack of carbonised grain indicate that this was a ‘consumer’ site. The midsummer and midwinter solstice alignments of the Durrington and Stonehenge architecture suggest seasonal occupation,” Parker Pearson said.

This year the winter solstice will be celebrated at Stonehenge on the morning of Thursday, December 22nd 2011

Stonehenge will open at 7.45 a.m. for people who brave the cold to watch the sun rise shortly after 8 a.m.

Full Article:  http://news.discovery.com/

 
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