May 6, 2009


Martin of The Lay Scientist has been hanging around the Daily Mail web site, so that we don't have to. The level of his sacrifice can be judged by a recent article which featured a reconstruction of the first modern European human, who arrived from Africa and looks kind of, well, black. It seems that the BNP supporting types don't like being reminded that humanity evolved in Africa and that white skin is a relatively recent mutation.

Rubbish. Europeans did not come from Africans and never could. This is just more anti-European propaganda, of as much real scientific merit as Piltdown Man.

Others don't like the idea that we evolved at all, and in their comments demonstrate that they never got past the single-celled stage:

We are all descended from Adam and Eve, who were most probably had brown skin and were from the middle east no more than 10,000 years ago.

Daily Mail Readers in Revolt over Black AncestorsThe Lay Scientist, 5th May 2009. Headline courtesy of the Daily Mail-o-matic.

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March 4, 2009

Just hanging around.

Beerhenge.Clonehenge is a blog with a mission:

Encouraged by an internet acquaintance of like mind, we began to search online for Stonehenge references and replicas. It was casual at first–just for laughs–a butter henge here, some biscuit henges there, and of course the well known ones like car henge and fridge henge and the modern stone “henges” scattered about the States. But after a bit the sheer number of ersatz henges [we use the word henge here, not in the true sense of a circular earthwork mound with a ditch, but in the sense that it is commonly if mistakenly understood, as a stone circle, often with lintels over some pairs of stones] filled us with a kind of horror-filled joy, and we decided something must be done.

Clonehenge is that something. It is a celebration of those first builders who erected Stonehenge as we understand it today, whose idea has turned out to be the ancestor of all icons, so powerful in image that five thousand years later people feel compelled to emulate their achievement, often in the most unlikely places and unsuitable media.

It is also a celebration of the ingenuity and mad genius of those people today who decide, usually for no reason except fun and the challenge, to make Stonehenges out of anything they can lay their hands on. Hurray for the builders!

They have already found most, though not all, of the usual suspects. The photograph is of one of my own creations, Beerhenge, made from two cans of Yebisu and a hip flask. As an added bonus that is, indeed, the summer solstice sunrise.


February 28, 2008

Now what about the chainmail bikini?

Sweden: Archæologists have discovered there might be some truth behind the Wagnerian stereotype of a Viking woman in a metal bra:

Cloth samples with fasteners and round pieces of metal were found in the mud near the Swedish capital, Stockholm...

But comparing them with figurines found at the site, they seem to have been worn as a metal bra.

The research at Birka also suggests that Viking women held bra fashion shows, but these were banned by prudish Christians.

Viking Women Had Bra Fashion ShowsThe Daily Record, 28th February 2008.

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December 1, 2006

Little blue men

Scotland: Pictish symbol stones have been the subject of much debate over the years, with many hypotheses put forward to explain their unique iconography. Stan Hall has come up with possibly the most surprising one, suggesting that the Newton Stone in Aberdeenshire depicts a planetary catastrophe, and that something was around to witness it.

I recognised that on the Newton Stone it shows two planets breaking away from each other…The double disc and z-rod pictographs…record for posterity the actual birth of Jupiter from Saturn.

Hall believes that this break-up of Saturn — which must have been an extraordinary cosmic moment — has been recorded in the myths of all ancient people.

The Greeks talk of the night of the falling stars — all major civilisations have records of major interplanetary catastrophes. They're found in old nursery rhymes, which have found to be Sumerian, like 'Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle' which shows the planets rushing together.

But whilst Hall believes that our mytho-history records these turbulent disruptions, he is unsure whether humans would have been around to witness the events depicted. Which leads to Hall to question who first set down the information? Just who might have been around to see the birth of Jupiter?

If you are even slightly familiar with the contents of Chariots of the Gods, you can guess who.

Out of this world solution to a Scottish standing stoneThe Scotsman, 28th November 2006 (via Warren Ellis).

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August 30, 2005

Bargain of the Day: Le Dolmen de Bagneux

France: The perfect accessory for the well-heeled neopagan is on the market. The Dolmen de Bagneux is located close to the town of Saumur in the heart of the Loire Valley.

[Le Dolmen de Bagneux]The famous Dolmen in Bagneux is probably one of the most majestic French dolmens and the largest of the 4,500 dolmens spread out on about 60 French departments.

The overall length of this dolmen is over 23 meters (75 feet) and its chamber is over 18 meters (60 feet) long. As all dolmens, the 'Great Covered stone" in Bagneux, was a large chamber tomb which must have contained a great number of prehistoric skeletons during the neolithic age, i.e.from 4,000 to 2,000 B.C., that is about 5,000 years ago.

In addition to the domen itself, the sale includes a commercial building currently used as a brewery and restaurant, and two flats.

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July 25, 2005

Palæolithic sisters are doing it for themselves

Germany: Archæologists have unearthed what appears to be the world's oldest sex toy. The sculpted and polished stone phallus was found in a cave near Ulm, and is life size.

Researchers believe the object's distinctive form and etched rings around one end mean there can be little doubt as to its symbolic nature.

It's highly polished; it's clearly recognisable, said Professor Conard.

There is also evidence that the dildo served a secondary purpose - it bears marks which show it was used for flint-knapping.

Ancient phallus unearthed in cave - BBC News, 25th July 2005.

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June 11, 2005

Bargain of the Day: House with broomstick landing pad

Scotland: A house for sale in the Borders offers an unusual facility - a ledge for the use of passing witches.

The ledge was designed to allow a stopping place and broom park for witches to help safeguard the house from evil, said James Denne, of Knights Frank, handling the sale of Whiteriggs at Melrose in Roxburghshire.

He said: The witch's ledge was something that was seen in fifteenth and sixteenth century homes.

It was very much a superstition that if you had somewhere in the house that a passing witch could stop and rest then the likelihood was that she would protect you and your house from any harm. So the witch's ledge indicates to a passing witch that she is welcome and she can rest peacefully there.

The site is just outside controlled airspace.

A house that welcomes witches - The Herald, 10th June 2005.

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March 12, 2005

Gruesome goings-on at the holy well

England: Many holy wells have gruesome legends attached to them, but the one associated with Lidwell in Devon isn't your usual tale of saintly self-sacrifice. Instead, the well was used by an early serial killer:

On the slopes of Haldon Hill lie the remains of Lidwell Chapel, the site of one of Devon's more macabre tales. The name, Lidwell, is actually a corruption of Lady's Well and the chapel is dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene. Like so many other churches and chapels, it was built on what was formerly a pagan place of worship, a sacred well, probably dedicated to the goddess of spring. There is, too, evidence of the original well and this can be seen in a corner of the grounds.

This isolated ruin, adjacent to farmland and situated to the northwest of Teignmouth, was, in medieval times, the focal point of a small settlement and leper sanctuary where the monks could provide care for the sufferers, all of whom would be compelled to live outside their community. The legend concerns one monk in particular, a hermit or recluse who lived at Lidwell during the early part of the fourteenth century. This man is said to have lured passing travellers into the chapel where he would rob them, murder them and dispose of their bodies by throwing them down the well.

In support of the legend, the Bishop's register of the year 1329 contains an entry relating to the execution of a Hermit Monk who had been convicted of murder. Intrigued by what we had unearthed and wanting to know more about this curio, we felt that the next logical step would be to visit the scene of crime so a team of five members of TNC arranged to go and look the place over as soon as we could.

And so starts the tale of a group of criminologists who discover that well-hunting can be a wet and frustrating business. But the tale takes a turn for the fortean:

Continue reading "Gruesome goings-on at the holy well"
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February 21, 2005

New Zealand's Stonehenge

New Zealand: The Phoenix Astronomical Society has unveiled it's own version of Stonehenge, designed to work properly in the antipodes.

The astronomical society's volunteers supplied 11,000 hours of labour over the 18 months the henge took to build.

The result of that toil is a henge of 24 upright pillars and connecting lintels that is 30m in diameter and about 4m high. In the centre of the henge is a 5m-tall obelisk, the eye of which points at the south celestial pole.

Set into a tiled mosaic that runs out from the obelisk along the meridian is a 10m analemma, the figure of eight pattern that the path of sun traces over a year.

Outside the circle of the henge stand six heel stones, the markers for the rising and setting points of the sun at solstice and equinox.

Maori astronomical achievements are also celebrated in the new monument:

To make the henge truly of Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand), the astronomers have ensured that their creation marks the stars and constellations that Polynesian navigators used on their epic voyages across the Pacific Ocean, and they have also incorporated Maori lore.

NZ unveils Stonehenge replica - BBC News, 14th February 2005.

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January 28, 2005

Phallic symbol erect again

The People's Republic of Yorkshire: The Barwick-in-Elmet maypole will be back this year, because villagers have worked out how to erect it in accordance with recent bureaucratic health and safety regulations.

Residents at Barwick-in-Elmet had traditionally lowered and then raised the 86ft wooden pole with ropes, ladders and plenty of human effort.

It was last done this way in 1999 since when health and safety regulations have been made tougher.

These caused problems for villagers in 2002 -- when the triennial festival was last held -- and so they held the celebrations without the maypole ceremony.

But now they say they can meet the regulations and will first take down and then raise up the pole again, using a tractor and crane and manual labour.

Nigel Trotter, a qualified engineer, was confident the village could meet regulations and called a public meeting to galvanise support. Now chairman of the maypole committee, he said: Although the lifting techniques will be new to the ceremony, they are a logical development of the traditional techniques used over the past 50 years.

The maypole is traditionally lowered to ground at Easter and then raised again at Spring Bank Holiday (formerly Whitsuntide) which this year falls on Monday, May 30.

The festival will include all the usual traditional amusements, including a procession, maypole dancing and the crowning of a May Queen.

We're back in pole position... - Yorkshire Evening Post, 28th January 2005.

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December 31, 2004

Beer, food and kisses.

London will witness one of the more entertaining Twelfth Night traditions on Monday when the Holly Man comes for a pint or two:

Arriving by boat at Bankside Pier, he docks and gives a special wassail, or toast, to the river and to the coming year. He then leads a troupe of actors, called mummers, on a procession to the George Inn in Borough for various new year festivities and sketches.

Actors from The Lions Part Theatre Group have been re-enacting the tradition for ten years now, and there's more to it than an excuse for a glass or two of fine real ale--you can stuff yourself with cake and have a snog too.

Monday's festivities also see visitors handed slices of 12th bake - cakes made from Christmas leftovers.

Hidden among the slices are a dried pea and a dried bean. Those who find them are hailed festival king and queen for the day.

But there's good news in store for hopeful singletons, too.

Tie a ribbon to the special kissing wishing tree at the George Inn, and tradition dictates you may kiss the person next to you.

Green giant calls in the new year - icSouthLondon, 31st December 2004.

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V1@gRa €0.01

Germany: Germany has some distinctive New Year symbols, and Elizabeth Goetze has taken a look at their origins.

Take the one-cent piece, the lucky penny - now this one seems fairly obvious, right? A piece of money becomes a token to assure financial happiness in the coming year. But there's more to it, as I found out. The copper in the coin is commonly associated with Venus, the goddess of love, and therefore should increase the bearer's lovemaking abilities - an ancient aphrodisiac, if you will. Lucky pennies were also once nailed on stable doors to keep away witches. Carried in your pocket the penny is supposed to ward off sham and deceit in your business dealings. Now that's more than you can ask from a Viagra pill, if you ask me.

The Fliegenpilz, a red-capped mushroom dotted with white spots, has long been associated with witchcraft and sorcery in Germany - good powers to have on your side for the new year. The chimney sweep, on the other hand, has a more practical background. A clean chimney was vital to villages and town centers with wood-constructed buildings: one single fire could easily wipe out an entire settlement. And the pig has been a symbol of fertility and wealth for centuries in many cultures. The Germanic goddess Freya was also known as Syr, which means sow, and the wild boar was a holy animal among Germanic deities.

Good luck! - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Weekly, 31st December 2004.

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Four charged over fake ossuary

Four Israeli antiquities dealers have been charged with faking some of the most important Biblical artifacts to come to light in the last few years, including the infamous ossuary:

They included a limestone ossuary box said to have held the bones of James, the brother of Jesus, supposedly the oldest physical link to the New Testament; a tiny ivory pomegranate bought by the Israel Museum for $550,000 (£287,000) as the only known relic of King Solomon's Temple; and a stone tablet, from the ninth century BC, inscribed in ancient Hebrew with instructions by King Joash for maintaining the Temple...

...Mr Golan, a leading Israeli collector, owned the James ossuary, inscribed James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus, and the Joash tablet. Detectives said they found a sophisticated laboratory in his home. The men are accused of painting the improved items with a special coating to imitate the patina that would accumulate over thousands of years.

The Prattle reported an academic's fears that the inscription on the ossuary was wrong, and therefore likely to be fraudulent, back in November 2002.

Israeli dealers accused of antiquity fraud - The Independent, 30th December 2004; see also Jesus artifact a fake - Pagan Prattle, 7th November 2002 and Jesus ossuary made by aliens - Pagan Prattle, 16th November 2002 (thanks, Julian).

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December 10, 2004

Should've seen it coming

England: John Dee's crystal has been nicked from the Science Museum in London.

The crystal, used as a tool by mediums and for curing disease, belonged to maverick philosopher, mathematician and astrologer John Dee, a consultant to Elizabeth I.

He lived between 1527 and the turn of the 17th Century, becoming a leading authority on angel-magic and beliefs that man had the potential for divine power.

Also taken was a statement about the crystal's use by author and pharmacist Nicholas Culpeper, written on the reverse of ancient deed manuscripts in the mid-1600s.

Daylight Raid on Science Museum Gallery - The Scotsman, 10th December 2004 (via Steve).

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October 25, 2004

Dead witch found

Russia: An unusual burial will keep Russian archæologists busy for some time. The grave discovered in the Crimea appears to be that of a woman aged about 40 who was an upper-class magic-user.

9 bronze rings, the same number of bells (perhaps, this particular number had been considered sacred at the time), a whole array of different amulets, beads-all of the items have been unearthed by the archaeologists. The witch must have dug out those accessories from ancient burials in order to intensify her magic powers. The reason the scientists are inclined to believe this is so, has to do with the fact that all the relics date back to a much earlier period than the woman's corpse.

Mind-boggling find in Crimea - Pravda, 22nd October 2004.

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October 19, 2004

Raiders Got It Wrong

United Kingdom: If you thought the Ark of the Covenant was buried deep in some anonymous warehouse in Washington DC, you're wrong. It's actually in a basement of the British Museum.

On a shelf in a locked basement room underneath the British Museum, are kept 11 wooden tablets; they are covered in purple velvet. And no one among the museum's staff — including Neil MacGregor, the director — is permitted to enter the room.

The tablets — or tabots — are sacred objects in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the most important of the 500 or so priceless Magdala treasures, looted by Britain from Ethiopia in 1868 and now held in this country. For almost two decades, the only people allowed access have been Ethiopian church clergy; it is considered sacrilegious for anyone else to see them.

Amid growing calls for the return of the treasures, the British Museum has moved them from an anonymous storage site to its Bloomsbury main building and announced that it is considering loaning them to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in London on what would be a permanent basis. They are regarded as representing the original Ark of the Covenant, which housed the Ten Commandments and the Orthodox Church has been lobbying for their return — or at least easy access to them — for more than 50 years.
Continue reading "Raiders Got It Wrong"
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October 9, 2004

Ancient monument vandalised

England: Birkrigg stone circle near Ulverston has been vandalised for the second time in a year. This time, the neds responsible made a crude and unconvincing attempt to make it look like the work of environmentalist protestors.

One of the standing stones of a Bronze Age stone circle has been daubed with red paint.

Last November four of the 12 stones which form an inner circle on the common were covered in paint.

One bore the cryptic message, Stop the Gene War, in black paint.

Paint had also been spattered on the grass, where a fire had also been lit.

VANDALS STRIKE AGAIN AT BIRKRIGG STONE CIRCLE - North West Evening Mail, 29th September 2004.

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October 2, 2004

Star (of David) Wars

The San Diego Jewish Journal has a long article about the influence of Judaism on science fiction. It looks at both the pioneering work of Jewish authors, both religious and secular, and the influence of Jewish mythology

From a science-fictional perspective, the most influential Judaic legend is The Golem of Prague, which concerns a rabbi who creates a creature out of clay to protect the Jewish people. Although there are different endings to the tale, in the most popular version he loses control of his monster and must destroy it. The spiritual forbearer of such well-known fables as Frankenstein and familiar characters like the Terminator and the HAL 9000 computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Golem has become a powerful trope embodying both cautionary and idealistic outlooks two notions that are invaluable to successful science-fiction storytelling. For many genre authors, particularly those steeped in Jewish folklore, the story remains a rich ideological source.

Ultimately, they regard the Jewish influence as responsible for the fundamentally optimistic nature of the genre: that the world will be a better place, and people will not have destroyed themselves.

Stars of David - San Diego Jewish Journal, October 2004 (via Locus).

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August 26, 2004

One we missed

Sweden: Atlantis did not sink beneath the waves according to geographer Ulf Erlingsson - it's still with us, and known as Ireland.

Erlingsson believes the idea that Atlantis sank came from the fate of Dogger Bank, an isolated shoal in the North Sea, about 60 miles (100 km) off the northeastern coast of England, which sank after being hit by a huge floodwave around 6,100 BC.
I suspect that myth came from Ireland and it derives from Dogger Bank. I think the memory of Dogger Bank was probably preserved in Ireland for around 3,000 years and became mixed up with the story of Atlantis, he said.
Erlingsson links the boundaries of the Atlantic Empire, as outlined by Plato, with the geographic distribution of megalithic monuments in Europe and Northern Africa, matching Atlantis' temples with well-known burial sites at Newgrange and Knowth, north of Dublin, which pre-date the pyramids.

Ireland is 'lost' island of Atlantis - Reuters, 6th August 2004 (via Pericat).

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June 28, 2004

The bottom line

Hungary: Clients at Hungary's only private ceremony will soon be able to choose a Buddhist, Shinto or Pagan funeral in addition to the Christian and civil options already offered.

Jávor says the cemetery only indirectly benefits from the new services, as it does not act as a middleman between the clients and the priests. However, he stresses, such services are not available in other cemeteries.
In theory, it is absolutely possible to have such funeral services in other cemeteries as well, but so far this has not been offered as a service at any such facility, he explains. We expect that the increasing influx of foreigners to Hungary will also increase the demand for religious funeral services other than those of the Christian churches.

Buddhism is apparently rather popular in Hungary, and there is a Buddhist college in Budapest.

Minority rites - Budapest Business Journal, 28th June 2004.

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June 1, 2004

Silly British games.

England: 21 people have been injured, five seriously, during an annual cheese-rolling contest in Gloucestershire.

Some 20 men and women, including a streaker, pursued a 7lb Double Gloucester cheese in each of four races at Cooper's Hill near Brockworth.
Competitors came from all over the world and included one of Belgium's leading footballers, Leo Van der Elst.

The race is believed to date back about 2000 years. Cheese-rolling gets back on track - BBC News, 1st June 2004 (thanks to blame Mike Holmes).

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May 24, 2004

Ley me down in Milton Keynes

Referring to an earlier post here, Alison Scott makes a startling revelation:

Milton Keynes is designed so that at sunrise on Midsummer's day, the sun is aligned directly with Midsummer Boulevard & is reflected in the mirror finish of the railway station.

Further investigation threw up a 1991 article by respected Earth Mysteries writer Bob Trubshaw. It seems it is much more complicated than that:

Continue reading "Ley me down in Milton Keynes"
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May 23, 2004

Here comes the sun

India: Prattle readers are probably familiar with sites such as Newgrange and Maes Howe, where the light from the sun hits a particular point on a significant day each year. But such astronomical tricks aren't restricted to the North-west European neolithic - a modern Jain temple has been designed to include a similar phenomenon.

For the past 17 years, thousands of devotees have been converging to a Jain temple in this Gujarat capital to witness the rays of the sun create a 'tilak' on the forehead of an idol of Lord Mahavir.
The phenomenon occurs every year May 22 at 2.07 p.m. and is seen by people as a divine event.

The architect explained:

Hemant Shah, the man behind the design of the temple, said: I wanted to commemorate our religious leader's death in a special way. Maharaj's death also took place at 2.07 p.m. on May 22, the exact time of the sun applying tilak on Lord Mahavir's forehead.
We consulted an astrologer to realise this phenomenon. The first year was a waste, since the sun's rays missed the forehead of Lord Mahavir but the next year, we worked with precision and now the result is here for the world to see.

Thousands witness rare event at Gujarat temple -, 23rd May 2004.

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April 2, 2004

Genii take break from calling Sikhs 'Osama'

England: The Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire have been badly damaged by vandals who poured yellow gloss paint over the stones. There is an extra complication to cleaning them, as the Stones are home to some ancient lichens, and removing the paint could destroy hundreds of years of growth. The stone circle is in regular use by neopagan groups, but a religious motive is not suspected. Vandals daub ancient stone circle - BBC News, 2nd April 2004; Rollright Stones web site.

Posted by Feòrag in Heritage at 11:38 | View blog reactions

January 29, 2004

Pyromaniac corner

The BBC has a picture gallery of this year's Up Helly Aa fire festival in Lerwick. In pictures: Up Helly Aa - BBC News, 28th January 2004.

Posted by Feòrag in Heritage at 14:21 | Comments (1) | View blog reactions

January 7, 2004

Past superstitions brought into light.

Builders have found a mummified cat, a broom, a small skull and a pair of shoes behind a wall in a Suffolk house. Police are now checking if the skull is human. Macabre find behind bedroom wall - East Anglian Daily Times, 7th January 2003.

Posted by Feòrag in Heritage at 18:01 | View blog reactions

December 9, 2003

Goddess in search of a new home

Venezuela: A statue of the goddess María Lionza has been standing by a busy road since it was moved there in 1951. She has suffered over the years and, if she is not moved to a more salubroius location, is liable to collapse or suffer from irreversible deterioration. There is some debate over whether the proposed new home, the central Plaza Venezuela in Caracas is most suitable.

Influential architects and urban designers, such as Hannia Gómez and William Niño have spoken out against the relocation, arguiing that the statue of María Lionza has become an integral part of the highway landscape, the site of veneration belongs to the urban spirit and to its devotees. In its new location, it would be exposed to the informality that surrounds the Plaza Venezuela.

The worship of María Lionza is the second largest religion in Venezuela, and her followers often consider themselves to be Roman Catholic as well.

María Lionza is the principal deity of a Venezuelan syncretic cult governed by an ethnic trilogy of spirits, including her companions Guaicaipuro, leader of the indigenous resistance in the Caracas region in the 16th century, and the hero Pedro Camejo, also known as Negro Primero, a much feared spear-thrower in the War of Independence.

Statue of Iconic Goddess Needs New Home - Inter Press Service News Agency, 13th December 2003 (it says here).

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December 3, 2003

More stones found at Avebury

A geophysical survey of Avebury has revelaed the locations of at least 15 meagliths which had previously thought to have been destroyed. There are no plans to re-erect the stones, but the ground penetrating radar data will be used to make a virtual reconstruction. Discovery of buried megaliths completes Avebury circle - The Independent, 3rd December 2003; COMPLETING THE CIRCLE OF HISTORY - National Trust press release, 2nd December 2003.

Posted by Feòrag in Heritage at 10:59 | View blog reactions

October 16, 2003

New discoveries at Stonehenge

Two carvings of axe heads have been found on stones at Stonehenge using a new laser scanning technique.

Both found on one stone, the axes, which date back to 1,800 BC, are badly eroded and can't be seen with the naked eye. But by sweeping low-powered laser beams at the stones and analysing the data closely, a picture emerged.
The first newly-discovered carving is about 15 cm square and may possibly be two axes, one on top of the other, while the other is about 10 cm by eight.
Only a small part of three of the sarsen stones were scanned by the team and they believe that a full scan of the surviving 83 stones would reveal more ancient carvings.

STONEHENGE SENSATION - SCANNING REVEALS AXE CARVINGS - 24 Hour Museum News, 16th October 2003; Archaeoptics web site (much more information).

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October 10, 2003

Rock experts baffled

Some newly-discovered Northumbrian rock art is baffling experts as it bears little resemblance to the cup-and-ring marks the area is famous for.

The carvings were found hewn into one, isolated sandstone boulder near Wooler in north Northumberland, close to the Scottish border.
As well as a group of concave spherical shapes around 20 cm in diameter, the carvings include a shape resembling an adult footprint, several deep scores and another shaped like a heart.

Even Stan Beckensall is stumped. ARCHAEOLOGISTS BAFFLED BY MYSTERIOUS ROCK CARVINGS IN NORTH EAST - 24 Hour Museum News, 9th October 2003.

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September 10, 2003

Well well well...

The North Devon Gazette has an interesting article on Devon's holy wells, which have been neglected by researchers. Holy wells are one of those Christian traditions which seem to build on older pagan ones, and they retained their popularity for a long time:

There used to be nine pubs here to cater for all the pilgrims and the church was known as the 'cathedral of North Devon,' she said. The numbers were such that it was the richest benefice in this part of the world.

Mystery of North Devon's sacred sites - North Devon Gazette and Advertiser, 10th September 2003; Holy Wells in Tarka Country website.

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August 22, 2003

An unusual insight into mediæval beliefs

An unusual late-mediæval ring has been found in Waltham on the Wolds. Of particular interest is the iron setting:

It could have belonged to somebody who'd made their money from iron and wished to demonstrate that, or there is something more ritualistic about it, said Peter [Liddle, Keeper of Archæology at Leicestershire County Council]. It could be that it's to do with witchcraft, maybe a sort of magic, ritual significance to ward off evil spirits.

2000 YEARS LATE! LOST ROMAN EARRING FOUND IN LEICESTERSHIRE - 24 Hour Museum News, 21st August 2003.

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July 29, 2003

Stratified society

Bulgaria: Archæologists have uncovered a rare statue of Heros, the most important of the Thracian gods. The marble statue was discovered at a site near the town of Stara Zagora. The pagan temple was presumably demolished to make way for the Christian church found on the same site. A mosque had been built on the ruins of the church.

Rare Thracian Statue Found in, 29th July 2003.

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June 12, 2003

Throwing the Kukeri book

Bulgaria: Traditional masked dancers are a venerable tradition in Bulgaria:

THE Bulgarian tradition of masked dancers known as Kukeri dates back centuries to pagan times and each year hundreds of groups of masked men visit the homes of villages throughout the country to perform ritual dances for the occupants' health and well-being.

But there are problems:

The masks are judged by festival juries on their presentation and arrangement and, though most regions rely on the furs and feathers of domestic animals and birds, the Durrel Wild Fauna Protection and Support Centre noted the disturbing phenomenon of villagers from the Pernik, Radomir, and Breznik regions increasingly using rare and protected bird and animal species to decorate their masks.

The authorities have started an awareness campaign, and also a competition for masks which do not use endangered species, and festival organisers are on the side of the conservationists. The article offers lots of information on a fascinating tradition as well. Eco Echo - Unmasking the Kukeri - The Sofia Echo, 12th June 2003.

Posted by Feòrag in Heritage at 18:41 | View blog reactions

May 17, 2003

GIS a clue

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have been use to shed new light on the Salem Witch Trials, and provice further evidence to back up a theory by Paul Boyer and Steve Nissenbaum that socio-economic factors were significant:

Using the geographic software, Ray recreated a historical map of the area that showed the poorer families living in the western part of the village and more affluent families in the east.
Ray concluded that more accusers came from the wealthier households of community leaders and the majority of the accused belonged to the middle or lower classes.
He and his class also researched court documents, genealogies and marriage and property records of accusers and the accused. The research showed that many of the accusers and accused were involved in family feuds and property disputes before the trials.

GIS technology helping with history's mysteries - San Bernadino County Sun, 16th May 2003. If the article sparks your interest in GIS, GRASS is an open source GIS released under the GPL, which runs on UNIX, Linux and similar systems, including MacOS X, and a project is underway to port it to Windows. The site also contains a lot more in-depth information about GIS and what's it's used for.

Posted by Feòrag in Heritage at 10:15 | View blog reactions

May 5, 2003

Uffington 'sacrelige'

Archæologists and conservationists are angry with the National Trust, which has allowed the producers of Big Brother to place a vast version of its logo next to the Uffington White Horse.

David Miles, chief archaeologist with English Heritage - the Government's advisers on the country's cultural legacy - said the Big Brother image was an indictment of modern society.
This simply confirms that we live in a commercial age, he added. Yet somehow I think the White Horse will be around long after Big Brother is forgotten.

Local residents are not happy either:

Residents of the nearby village of Uffington - whose ancestors have cared for the White Horse for centuries by removing weeds that intruded on the chalk outline - warned the incident could trigger a local uprising. Sharon Smith, curator of the Tom Brown's School Museum, which celebrates local author Thomas Hughes and the cultural history of the region, said: This just smacks of sacrilege. You shouldn't use a national monument to promote a tacky game show.

Big Brother's logo 'defiles' White Horse - The Observer, 4th May 2003. See also Big Brother defends 300ft chalk logo - BBC News, 4th May 2003, which includes a picture.

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April 8, 2003

Going straight

Work has begun to straighten two of the stones at Avebury, which had started to lean at a perilous angle. The 5m stones are estimated to weigh 50tonnes each. Work to straighten huge standing stones begins - Ananova, 8th April 2003.

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April 3, 2003

Holy sewers

Vadodara, India: Squatters are being blamed for turning a pond sacred to the god Varundev' into an open sewer, but civic authorities believe it is the fault of the locals who have extended their drainage lines into the pond. The problem isn't limited to small, local sacred sites though. A Public Accounts Committee has criticised various government departments over pollution in the Ganga.

They also stressed on the need of community participation in cleaning the polluted river and said that not only political or social but religious groups too should come forward to create awareness among people about the cleaning of Ganga.

Pond revered by Sindhis turns into sludge lake - Times of India, 3rd April 2003; Committee raps officials for pathetic Ganga - Times of India, 2ndApril 2003; Hand over Ganga cleaning to the army: PAC - Times of India, 2nd April 2003.

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March 27, 2003

Temple life is depressing

Thailand: Many Buddhist monks, especially older ones, are confused and lonely individuals suffering from mental health problems that have driven them to contemplate suicide, according to a psychotherapist who gets to treat them. Dr Jutharas Kosiyakul said that many of them become confused after believing they've acheived enlightenment and hear strange noises at night. And in what appears to be a regrettable mistranslation, she is said to have told a workshop Fortunately, most refused to resist killing themselves. Many monks harbour suicidal tendencies - Bangkok Post, 27th March 2003.

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March 3, 2003

A fanny thing happened on the way to the Henge

A professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynecology has suggested that the design of Stonehenge is based on female sexual anatomy. Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Anthony Perks observes that some of the stones had been rubbed smooth, but that others had not received such attention, and this got him thinking:

He noticed how the inner stone trilithons were arranged in a more elliptical, or egg-shaped, pattern than a true circle. Comparing the layout with the shape of female sexual organs showed surprising parallels.
Perks believes the labia majora could be represented by the outer stone circle and possibly the outer mound, with the inner circle serving as the labia minora, the altar stone as the clitoris and the empty geometric center outlined by bluestones representing the birth canal.

Perks knows a lot about women's bits, but is no archæologist. He repeats ideas about a universal mother goddess without any reference to the long, on-going debate on the matter and makes an anachronistic and geographically-suspect mention of Celts. Female Anatomy Inspired Stonehenge? Discovery Channel, 28th February 2003.

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February 28, 2003

Pilgrims resist paying to see relics

India: a crude attempt by the Patna Museum to exploit Buddhist pilgrims has backfired. Since the charge to view the holy ashes of Lord Buddha was raised from Rs. 10 (€0.19/13p) to Rs.100 (€1.94/£1.34) on 11th January, only 300 people have paid up, mostly non-Buddhist tourists. The rest of the museum charges an entrance fee of Rs. 5 (€0.10/7p) and sees 400 vistors per day.

Earlier, a proposal was made for keeping the entrance fee at Rs 10, but it was rejected by the government, since the entrance fee of Rs 100 is aimed at getting more revenue by attracting Buddhist pilgrims from Asian countries.The casket having priceless holy ashes, and kept on the first floor of the Patna museum since January 11, contains Lord Buddhas ashes mixed with clay, a copper punch-marked coin and a tiny leaf made of gold. Noted archaeologist A S Altekar had discovered the casket in 1958 during the excavation at Raja Vishal Ka Garh now in Vaishali district. The excavation was conducted by Kashi Prasad Jayaswal Research Institute.

Holy ashes fail to attract pilgrims - Times of India, 28th February 2003.

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February 23, 2003

Grave robbers thoroughly cursed.

Theives who desecrated 22 graves to steal valuables buried with the bodies have been cursed in an unusual multifaith ceremony in Malaysia.

The ceremony, believed to be the first of its kind in the state, began with a Christian prayer for the souls of the Christians.
Then the Miring ceremony followed for the pagan Ibans with a slaughter of a 100kg boar.
Then a grim-faced elderly man, Enggol anak Dingon, rose up and began to invoke the Antu Gerasi and Antu Remaung, both very much feared ferocious ghosts to go after the guilty ones to break them up from limb to limb, tear out their hearts and eat them.
He also called on the benevolent Petara to bless the living with better harvest, health, jobs and more duit and ringgit
Then he invited the 12 longhouse chiefs to sprinkle yellow rice and this was was also done by the relatives concerned.

Ibans From 12 Longhouses Put Curse On Grave Thieves - Bernama, 23rd February 2003.

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February 21, 2003

Legends of Jersey

BBC Jersey has produced Things that go bump in the night..., a web page all about the island's folklore. The story of The Witches of Rocqueberg has certain parallels with better-known Scottish faerie tales, but the tale of Geoffrey's Leap is positively Darwinian!

No-one really knows who Geoffrey is, but we know that he committed a crime - and that his punishment was to be thrown off a high rock at Anne Port.
Crowds came to watch Geoffrey die, and the executioner hurled him off the rock. But Geoffrey survived, and swam ashore.
Some of the crowd argued that he should be allowed to live, and others that he should be thrown off again.
Geoffrey settled the argument, by saying that he would jump off the rock himself to show how easy it was. But this time, Geoffrey hit the rocks below, and died.

While there, check out the recipe for Black Butter, which has no folkloric connection that I know of, but is lovely stuff. (Thanks, indirectly, Simon).

Posted by Feòrag in Heritage at 01:39 | View blog reactions

February 20, 2003

Hankies not necessary

The Banchory Morris Men, based near Aberdeen, are short on members because Scots men are too embarrassed to be seen dressing up in silly clothes, wearing bells, and hitting sticks in time to accordion music. The BBC News story gives a potted history of Morris dancing, including earlier Scottish incarnations:

Certainly the Morris Men say there was indigenous Morris Dancing in Scotland, until the early seventeenth century.
Neil Bayfield said it was banned by the Scottish kirk for being too much fun.

But the BBC's description of the Banchory side as Scotland's only Morris troupe falls well short of their usual accuracy - they're Scotland's only Cotswold side. The Morris Federation lists a number of sides dancing other traditions, including the Edinburgh-based Jenny Geddes Clog Morris, a mixed North West side (also in need of new members - follow the link for contact information, or mail me about it) Dancers urged to make the leap - BBC News, 18th February 2003.

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February 12, 2003

So where did they put the cuckoo?

Analysis of the teeth of a man buried near Stonhenge show that he came from an area which is now Switzerland and Germany, raising interesting questions about who built the monument. The Amesbury Archer lived at the time of Stonhenge's construction. 'King of Stonehenge' hailed from the Alps - New Scientist, 11th February 2003.

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January 9, 2003

Church and State

An interesting opinion piece appeares in the Eagle Herald, a local publication based in Wisconsin and Michigan, concerning a debate between Christians and Asatruar over a pubically-funded nativity scene. Michael D. Brant argues that it is completely unconstitional to force any citizen to fund the promotion of another religion and looks at the reason the US exists in the first place, and why the separation of church and state is the first amendment.

The majority leads to my next point. I'm shocked by Mr. Carpio's conclusion, Christianity is the majority religion in this country. Get over it! Majority religion is why so many people fled the oppressive state-run religion to our county, and hence the Constitution's very first amendment. Mr. Carpio also makes references to the founding fathers' religious intents, yet in order to guarantee an atmosphere of absolute religious liberty, this country's founders mandated the strict separation of church and state. The Constitution makes no reference to God or religion, except for its protection and separation.

He goes on to argue against popular beliefs concerning the origins of certain God-related statements on money and in the Pledge - they were nothing to do with the Founding Fathers, but were added in the paranoid 1950s. Public nativity scenes unconstitutional - Eagle Herald, 8th January 2003.

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January 6, 2003

Call the Time Team

A group of 'Knights Templar' plan to use advanced geophysical surveying techniques to find the Holy Grail. They hope to find a vault somewhere in the vicintiy of Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian. The chapel itself is a fascinating building, full of intricate carvings including depictions of sweetcorn dating from before Columbus set foot in the Americas. But John Ritchie, Grand Herald and spokesman for the Knights Templar, sees a deeper symbolism:

There is a whole series of stuff on each section of the chapel, which relates to a different period of time, Mr Ritchie added. We have to go back to the 15th century and read it with a medieval eye to understand what it all means. All these symbols relate to events in history. It is a book created in stone, which brings in all the apostolic religion, laid over by an astrological form which tracks the seasons, and the plants in the seasons. Both the Freemasons and the Knights Templar claim the ornate stonemasonry of the church is a secret code which, if broken, will reveal the whereabouts of treasures.

Knights Templar to use latest imaging in search for Grail - The Independent, 6th January 2003.

Posted by Feòrag in Heritage at 12:19 | Comments (1) | View blog reactions

Jesus was a hippy.

A study of scripture published this month claims that Jesus healed the sick by using cannabis. The anointing oil used by Jesus and his disciples contained an ingredient called kaneh-bosem which has since been identified as cannabis extract, according to an article by Chris Bennett in the drugs magazine, High Times, entitled Was Jesus a Stoner? The incense used by Jesus in ceremonies also contained a cannabis extract, suggests Mr Bennett, who quotes scholars to back his claims.

The use of cannabis-based anointing oils in ancient Judaism is already well established. Jesus 'healed using cannabis' - The Guardian, 6th January 2003.

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November 16, 2002

Jesus ossuary made by aliens

More exciting revelations from Pravda, this time concerning the ossuary with the forged inscription - it must have been made by aliens!

Hardly had the controversy settled down when another sensation happened. Andre Lemer said after a certain period of study that it was impossible to determine the composition of the stone. The professor stated that the coffin was made of a material that does not exist on planet Earth. Hundreds of such coffins have been found in Jerusalem during archeological excavations. The research has showed that they were made in the first century A.D. That is why, the first thought that I had in my head when I saw Jacob's coffin was there is something wrong with it. The stone differed from all other stones that I saw before. It had very small pores that could hardly be seen. At the same time, it was incredibly solid. After the tests that we conducted in the lab, I can assure you that our planet does not know this material, said the professor.

However, the professor did not answer where the stone could have come from. Many ufologists, including Russian ones, say that the material of the coffin does not belong to our planet. Dmitry Astrakhantsev, the head of the Ufology and Anomaly Center, said: Observations and research show that aliens were involved in a lot of things that were happening during biblical times. For example, the birth of Jesus Christ. How can this be explained, the immaculate conception? There is even a hypothesis that says that Mary and Joseph were warned about the birth of their son Jesus. They were informed by aliens--they were thought of as angels, so to speak.

The alien spaceship is known to Christians as the Star of Bethlehem. Sensation: Apostle Jacob's Coffin Made by Aliens - Pravda, November 14th 2002.

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November 8, 2002

People take drugs at Stonehenge

Pravda is getting back to normal after the theatre seige. For example, did you know that Stonehenge is haunted by UFOs?

There is another even more fantastic phenomenon. Once, a group of people heard some strange sounds from the direction of the stones. These people immediately left, but the strange sound went up into the sky with a buzzing. Then, these people saw something resembling a huge wheel of fire, turning as it flew up into the sky. Later, after they returned home, they saw a female figure dressed in yellow clothes. The woman's hair was long, and her coiffure resembled an ancient Egyptian one. This even gave them the impression that they witnessed a struggle between good and the evil.

Stonehenge: Alternative View - Pravda, November 7th 2002.

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November 7, 2002

Jesus artifact a fake.

An inscription on an ossuary which the Biblical Archaeology Review touted as the first-ever archaeological discovery to corroborate Biblical references to Jesus has been shown to be a blatant forgery. The ossuary genuinely dates from the first century, as does the first half of the Aramaic inscription - Jacob son of Joseph, but the second part - brother of Jesus was added later according to Rochelle I. Altman, an expert on ancient writing.

Please note that the fraud is so blatant that I did not bother to go into extreme detail on whether the faked addition is supposed to be Hebrew or Aramaic. (If that's a vav, -- then it's Hebrew, not Aramaic; if it's yod, then it's says 'my brother', not 'his brother' or 'brother of'. By no stretch of the imagination can one claim this to be in Aramaic... 'of' in Aramaic is 'di'.) You have to be blind as a bat not to see that the second part is a fraud...

Ossuary was genuine, inscription was faked - Israel Insider, October 29th 2002 (includes the full report); Evidence Of Jesus Written In Stone - Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2002.

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August 9, 2002

How religion keeps us stupid

The latest issue of Asimov's Science Fiction includes Burning Science at the Stake, an essay by Robert Silverberg examining the history of religious interference in scientific research from the early 14th century ban on dissection to the restrictions on stem cell research in the United States.

From then until the repeal of Boniface's decree in 1556, those who dared conduct studies in human anatomy had to work surreptitiously--the most famous example being that of the anatomist Andreas Vesalius, who would visit places of execution where criminals had been left hanging overnight and carry out secret dissections by torchlight. His famous book of 1543, On the Structure of the Human Body, provided the first reliable information on human anatomy ever compiled. Much persecuted for impiety, Vesalius wandered from country to country and eventually, to escape the Inquisition, undertook a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he died.

The same issue also includes Router, the latest in Charles Stross' Accelerando series.

The queen is young, with disheveled blonde hair and high cheekbones: she wears a tattered black dress over iridescent purple leggings, and sprawls lazily across the arms of her informal throne--an ostentatious lump of nonsense manufactured from a single carbon crystal doped with semiconductors. She got to be queen by almost-accident, parlaying a jurisdictional mix-up and her presence on the first commercial mining probe to make it out to Jupiter into the ownership of a rather small moon, and she hasn't got the royalty thing down pat yet; the scene is very much the morning after the evening before, like a goth night club gone to seed. The decor is all stale smoke and crumpled velvet, wooden church pews, burned-out candles, and gloomy Polish avant-garde paintings.

Nothing to do with religious silliness, intolerance, penises or any of the usual Prattle topics, just me being biased.

Posted by Feòrag in Heritage at 16:14 | View blog reactions

July 15, 2002

Rare magical coins found

Archæologists investigating a mediæval hospital and priory at Spitalfields, London, have uncovered a collection of seven rare 15th century 'angel' coins. The gold coins were thought to ward off evil spirits, and were buried in the floor of a building demolished in the 1530s. Hazel Forsyth from the Museum of London said:

Only one gold angel has been found before by archaeologists in London, so to find seven is extraordinary. It could have been that they were used for clinical purposes in the hospital. Gold was used in the preparation of some treatments. It is also possible that the coins were someone's life savings and that they were temporarily stored in the floor for safety. The owner may have died before having a chance to retrieve them.

The coins will be displayed in the Museum of London. Rare 1460s gold 'angel' coins unearthed in London - Ananova, July 15th 2002.

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July 12, 2002

Unusual Japanese shrines

Mainichi Daily News WaiWai republishes articles from Japan's "wild weeklies". Japan's religious oddities -- from 2 meter woodies to temple of the mount, from Spa! looks at some of the more unusual Shinto and Buddhist shrines to be found around the country.

Kanayama Jinja Shrine in Kawasaki plays a similar role. Its grounds contain myriad phallic statues adorned with prayer boards written by followers whose fears about fornication give them the willies.
Craftsmen who used fire or iron during the Edo Period (1603-1868) had a deep belief in the god Kanayama. People soon made the link between tools that spark fire and harmony among couples,the shrine's chief priestess Kimiko Nakamura tells Spa!. The shrine is said to answer the prayers of those seeking lots of offspring and prevent venereal diseases. Recently, it's said to ward off AIDS and ensure the success of sex change operations.

Other shrines focus on traditional fertility problems and on getting people together in the first place.

Posted by Feòrag in Heritage and Willies at 15:34 | View blog reactions

May 14, 2002

Christian calls to deface historic site

Scotland: A Christian author has proposed putting a gigantic cross on the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, and insists he isn't extracting the urine. Harry Reid has written a book on the future of the Church of Scotland (presumably a very short book, if this idea is typical) and sees it as an assertive symbol of Christianity. Even though such a project is guaranteed to offend non-Christians in the city (which, is far more diverse and interesting than David Irving imagines), a representative of the local council felt it would be acceptable. The park is owned by the Queen and managed by Historic Scotland, who are much cooler on the idea:

Given the fact it's a royal park and the wealth of prehistoric sites, sites of scientific interest and sites of environmental sensitivity in the park, it is an unlikely plan.

Hooray for holy rood plan at Arthur's Seat - Edinburgh Evening News, 14th May 2002 (BugMeNot).

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May 1, 2002

Hooray, hooray, the first of May

England: The Long Man of Wilmington now lives up to his name with the mysterious overnight addition of a 6m penis. The appendage was noticed this morning by members of the Long Man Morris Men who danced at the site to celebrate May Day. No permanent damage has been done to the chalk hill figure as the whopping willie was simply painted onto the grass and will disappear with the first lawnmower of spring.

Rent-a-quote and self-proclaimed King of the Witches, Kevin Carlyon, complained that it was wrong as he thinks the figure, which previously had no gender-specific characteristics, is a woman. Twenty foot penis painted on ancient hill figureAnanova, May 1st 2002.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh's Beltane celebrations were held on Calton Hill as usual. A single protester from a local evangelical church turned up with placards urging the gathered crowds to obey all of God's laws. He was wearing a wool sweater with cotton trousers! Some American "Christians" tried to heckle the performers but were drowned out by the drums. Beltane Fire Society web site.

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Posted by Feòrag in Heritage and King Kevin and Willies at 14:15 | View blog reactions

January 12, 2002

Bite me.

The star attraction at Whitby Abbey's new visitor centre is to be Count Dracula, much to the annoyance of some local Christians. The Abbey ruins were the inspiration for Bram Stoker's classic tale and an actor will be hired to play the author. 'Unchristian' Dracula is Abbey attraction, Ananova, 8th January 2002.

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January 1, 2002

Bonking Dogs found

The discovery of an elaborately carved knife has added to the confusion surrounding the burial of dogs around Silchester. A number of apparently ritual burials have been found at the Roman site. The knife depicts two dogs mating and was buried in a pit containing the bodies of two dogs. It suggests that the dog burials were going on over a longer period of time than previously thought. Knife twists mystery of dog burials, Guardian Unlimited, 1st January 2002.

Posted by Feòrag in Heritage at 18:10 | View blog reactions

June 21, 1994

Obituary: Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson

This piece was written by Òlafur Gunnlaugsson. Ignore the byline above!

Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson Allsherjargothi, the Icelandic farmer, poet, "kvaedamadur" (poetry "singer") and head of the Icelandic Àsatruarsofnudurinn passed away on the 25th of December 1993 at the age of 69.

Continue reading "Obituary: Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson"

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