Stories tagged England

Feb
05
2013

Royal bones: This is how archaeologists found the bones of King Richard III buried beneath a parking lot in Greyfriar's, England.
Royal bones: This is how archaeologists found the bones of King Richard III buried beneath a parking lot in Greyfriar's, England.Courtesy University of Leicester
Today, many of our former leaders get dropped into the dust bin of cable news commentators and talk radio hosts. But 500 years ago, the options appeared to be a little more drastic.

Researchers yesterday announced that they've confirmed that the bones they found last fall buried under a parking lot in Greyfriars, England, are that of infamous King Richard III.

Further investigation of his full skeleton shows that King Richard suffered traumatic, and fatal, injuries in the course of fighting the Battle of Bosworth. But further analysis also shows that he very likely suffered "humiliation injuries" after his death, signs of displeasure from those who did not agree with his politics or leadership. Click here to learn more about the scientific techniques being used to glean this forensic information from the king. Included is a graphic description of the humiliation injuries King Richard sustained.

Studying bones: Preliminary studies show King Richard had severe scoliosis, but not the hunchback that his post-reign critics want us to believe.
Studying bones: Preliminary studies show King Richard had severe scoliosis, but not the hunchback that his post-reign critics want us to believe.Courtesy University of Leicester
Authorities are also saying that finding the remains of King Richard will reopen the thinking of the young monarch's short reign. Popular depiction since his death was that King Richard was an evil, ruthless killer. Following his demise, a different branch of monarchy came into power and very well could have had an agenda of discrediting his legacy. Already, the discovery of the bones show that Richard III did suffer from severe scoliosis, but probably didn't have the hunchback that legend claims. Could this be the first of several King Richard III myths to be debunked?

After the research is completed, the plan is to entomb King Richard's remains at Leicester Cathedral and to have an interpretive center across the street to tell the details of king's newly discovered story.

Video summary:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/richard-iiis-remains-found-un...

Oct
08
2009

A "Bellarmine" or "Greybeard": Sort of an industrial strength pottery witch bottle. Look at that scary, bearded face. Wouldn't that scare you off, if you were a curse?
A "Bellarmine" or "Greybeard": Sort of an industrial strength pottery witch bottle. Look at that scary, bearded face. Wouldn't that scare you off, if you were a curse?Courtesy Public domain
Wrap yourselves up in your least haunted quilts, Buzzketeers, and warm up a mug of your holiest liquid, because it’s that time of year again. It’s the time to throw out your old pumpkins, to put a towel over that spot on the stoop where the pumpkins were, to brush up on your circles of protection, to cover your orange sweaters in black marker, to splash your black sweaters in orange paint, and to prepare some fresh witch bottles.

Because witches are frisky this time of year, and a frisky witch is a dangerous witch.*

That’s right, it’s October, the season we call Halloweeny. And if we want to survive Halloweeny curse-free and with all digits and eyeballs intact, we’re absolutely going to need witch bottles. I don’t know about you, but I want that.

Do you remember a Buzz post I made two years ago about witch bottles? Rhetorical question—of course you remember. Here it is. You’ll recall that we covered some of the basics of apotropaios techniques. What you have to do, more or less, is think like an eleventh century peasant, and fill a bottle with some stuff that might cause discomfort in a witch’s urinary tract. What should go in there, exactly? Just follow your heart—this was before science, really, so whatever seemed like it would absorb evil magic and/or give a witch trouble in the bathroom and/or kill a witch from a distance was what you would go with. Nowadays, the scientific method has shown us what the best materials are for achieving each of these goals (the ShamWow, White Castle sliders, and lightening, respectively), but it’s nice sometimes to do things the old timey way.

So, a refresher: Get a little bottle, fill it with bent pins, thorns, and spiky things (for the witch’s discomfort), as well as items from your body, like hair, fingernails, or belly button lint, and then top it all off with good, old fashioned urine. Then you’re going to want to bury that bottle somewhere close, like under your fireplace. Apparently, whatever curses were directed at you will be confused by the other pee-soaked bundle of lint, fingernails and hair in your house, and it’ll attack that. Alternatively, some sources say you can throw the bottle in your fireplace, and when it explodes the witch will die. But then you’ve got a house full of broken glass and boiling hot urine, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

I’m bringing witch bottles back up partially because it has been two years, and witches, like diarrhea and terrorism, are an ever-present threat. But the subject was brought to my attention yesterday because I noticed this article: Archaeologists unearth 17th century bottle used to scare off witches. Pretty neat, huh?

The artifact, among many others, was buried under a parking lot in Staffordshire, in England. You might not think it, but big, old cities are swimming in potential archaeology. People have been living in some cities for thousands of years, after all, just building over older stuff, and archaeology is all about finding where people were a long time ago, and finding out what these people did.

Several large pottery kilns have been dug up in the same area, suggesting that the region may have been a major pottery producer and exporter. A pit full of leather scraps, left over from shoe making seems to indicate that a shoemaker lived and worked at that spot 400 years ago. And the witch bottle implies that someone in the neighborhood was concerned about witches. (JK—we’re all concerned about witches. That’s why I’m just putting the finishing touches on (in) a milk jug beneath my desk. Try to curse me now, Springsteen!)

Also, I put this link in the old post, but I had totally forgotten about it. Apotropaios—all about how people used to protect themselves from perceived malicious forces. Wild.

*I might be thinking about frisky lions here, actually.

May
11
2009

I stumbled across this story on BBC news. A medieval church was discovered by a team of archaeologists from Lampeter University. The site was discovered in a city that is apparently unpronounceable by humans. A geophysical survey was used to detect the foundation of the church in Swyddffynnon, Wales. Given the amount of material, possible other buildings and additional evidence of human activity found it has been speculated by the team that this may be the site of a medieval village.

The clean-up crew at the British university probably didn't enjoy this part of their job, and the guy's office they cleaned didn't need or want this type of dirtiness taken away. Read all about it here.

Jul
07
2008

God save the queen: From abduction, probing, and public ridicule.
God save the queen: From abduction, probing, and public ridicule.Courtesy .kol tregaskes
That’s kind of a bummer, isn’t it? Right?

Aliens (space aliens) and America used to be like pizza and beer, adenine and thymine, Johnny and June; we were inseparable. We dissected them and hid their crash sites, and they mutilated our surplus cattle and probed our rural drunks.

And now they’ve crossed the pond to shack up with a foxier mistress with a more sophisticated accent: Lady Britannia.

Sure, there was that awesome sighting in Texas in January, but since then all aliens seem to care about is England. Apparently, it has been a crazy year for UFO sightings in Britain.

Dozens of reported UFO sightings across the country have got British extraterrestrial enthusiasts stammering, dropping their h’s, and constructing fresh tinfoil hats. Out of Cadbury egg wrappers. In their spare time, they’re working on theories for the increasing number of encounters, a favorite being aliens’ concern over global warming and what man is doing to the planet. I suppose the best way to warn humanity of the dangers of climate change is to zoom past small towns in the middle of the night, but I have a different theory—the aliens want to take over Earth, but it’s still too cold for them to comfortably inhabit the planet, so they’re idling their high-energy spacecrafts in our low atmosphere to release even more greenhouse gases. They’ve probably picked England because of the low number of firearms in the country—who needs to have the locals taking potshots at you all night?

Anyway, we’ve been dumped. Again.

Apr
27
2008

Do you see what it's eating?: Fingers.
Do you see what it's eating?: Fingers.Courtesy lavendarlady
There’s big trouble in Little America (that’s what all the cool kids are calling England these days, that or “Olde America”).

It seems that Cambridge, Little America, is being invaded by black squirrels.

“Why is this a big deal?” you ask. I’ll tell you why. First of all, you have to keep in mind that most large, dangerous animals were hunted to extinction in England hundreds of years ago. So, while we North Americans are used to bears, wolves, mountain lions and cheetahs wandering our streets, it has been centuries since most Brits have had to deal with anything more dangerous that, say, a bunny. Squirrels, while often smaller than bunnies, can be slightly more dangerous—if necessary, a bunny can usually be avoided by going up stairs, or standing on a chair, but this won’t work for squirrels. The squirrel is, after all, nature’s monkey.

But it’s not the presence of squirrels alone that’s dangerous here. Cambridge had squirrels before, but these new squirrels are mutants. Mutant, melanistic, black-furred gray squirrels, and they are slowly but surely running the old-fashioned gray squirrels out of town.

Melanism, simply, is a genetic variation that causes skin, fur, or feathers to be consistently dark. It’s sort of the opposite of albinism. Black panthers, for instance, are just melanistic leopards or jaguars. Melanism is usually fairly uncommon in animals—if a species has evolved its fur or feathers to be camouflage within its natural environment, a melanistic individual might end up sticking out like a sore thumb and getting eaten before it can pass on its genes. This sort of selective pressure is probably less significant for your average city squirrel, and having black fur may not necessarily be detrimental, and other traits could determine a species’ success.

Red squirrels used to be common in Olde America, for instance, until the introduction of larger, more aggressive gray squirrel. Now red squirrels are largely extinct in Britain, except for certain small pockets in Scotland, forced out by the brutal gray squirrel armies. Oh, wait, something perfect just happened.

Right, so now the same thing is happening to the gray squirrels. There’s some evidence that in large cats melanism offers a certain amount of protection from viral infection, so it could be that the new melanistic squirrel population receives similar genetic benefits. It has also been suggested, though not yet proven, that the melanistic squirrels are more aggressive than their gray cousins due to higher testosterone levels.

Also, I just dug this link up the other day, but it seems appropriate here too. In Russia a couple years ago, there was a report of a pack of black squirrels killing and eating a big stray dog. A choice quote:

"They literally gutted the dog," local journalist Anastasia Trubitsina told Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. "When they saw the men, they scattered in different directions, taking pieces of their kill away with them."

In short, it may be that Little America’s days are now numbered. Consider canceling vacation plans, or at least packing squirrel repellent.

Jul
23
2007

Hitting the jackpot: Two treasure hunters with a metal detector recently uncovered this silver Viking bowl and a treasure trove of other artifacts in a farm field in England. Early estimates peg the find at worth more than $1 million.
Hitting the jackpot: Two treasure hunters with a metal detector recently uncovered this silver Viking bowl and a treasure trove of other artifacts in a farm field in England. Early estimates peg the find at worth more than $1 million.
I make no apologies for taking every chance I can get to put Viking information on this blog.

Last week the British Museum announced the find of a huge horde of Viking artifacts a father-son team of treasure hunters. It’s believed to be the largest Viking find in the past 150 years.

The duo made the discovery going through a farm field in northern England back in January. Basically, their metal detector when berserk when it sensed the cache of coins and jewelry that was amassed more than 1,000 years ago in lands spanning from Ireland to Russia.

Starting to dig, the first thing they found was a silver bowl. Inside the bowl were a lot of other goodies, with some spilled out around the area. The entire find was slightly more than a foot underground.

When all was said and done, they’d found more than 600 coins, dozens of jewelry pieces, silver ingots and fragments of silver. Among the coins, there was a mix of Nordic and pagan images, showing a religious transition taking place in the Viking culture at that time.

Once all the pieces are studied, the British Museum hopes to make an offer to the treasure hunters to purchase some of the pieces. Preliminary press reports estimate that the find might be worth more than $1 million. In the meantime, they’re going out to keep digging, something they’ve been doing for years without nearly the historical success