Sunday, July 31, 2016

Nelson: 10 days that created a legend

History Extra

Horatio Nelson as depicted in Lemuel Francis Abbott's oil on canvas from 1789. (Credit: National Maritime Museum London)

9 April 1777: The ambitious teenager shows his potential

Passing the lieutenant’s examination was a hurdle that everyone with ambitions to become a commissioned officer in the Royal Navy had to clear. Nelson was 18 years old when he appeared before the panel to be tested on diverse aspects of his service knowledge. Meeting with success, he wrote to his brother soon afterwards with the news that he had been appointed lieutenant on a frigate, the Lowestoffe. “So I am now left in [the] world to shift for myself,” he continued, “which I hope I shall do, so as to bring Credit to myself and Friends.”
Perhaps chief among those friends was Nelson’s uncle, Maurice Suckling. A captain himself, and promoted to the important position of controller of the navy in 1775, Suckling had carefully guided Nelson’s youthful footsteps, finding commanding officers who would promote his advancement and broaden his operational experience. Indeed, the two ships in which Nelson began his naval service as a boy in 1771 – Raisonnable and Triumph – were both captained by Suckling.

John Francis Rigaud’s portrait of Nelson, begun in 1777 when he was a lieutenant. Thanks to his raw talent, and the patronage of his uncle Maurice Suckling, Nelson’s rise through the ranks was rapid. (© National Maritime Museum London)
Six years later, this key supporter also sat on the board that examined Nelson for his lieutenant’s commission. Patronage was, of course, part of the bedrock of 18th-century British society, and Nelson was typical of the wider officer corps in seeking to benefit from a powerful contact. However, influence was rarely the sole basis of naval success. It was professional knowledge that the examination was designed to probe, and the patron who backed a dunderhead jeopardised his own reputation in the short or long term.

11 March 1787: Nelson marries into wealth and respectability

The 10 years of peace that followed the American War of Independence put Nelson’s naval career on hold. In 1787 he married Frances ‘Fanny’ Nisbet, a young widow from a wealthy plantation family on Nevis (one of the Leeward Islands). Contemporaries described her as pretty and artistic, though intellectually unremarkable. Prince William Henry, the future William IV and a fellow naval officer, gave the bride away. Privately, the prince wrote more critically to Samuel Hood, saying “poor Nelson is over head and ears in love… I wish him well and happy, and that he may not repent the step he has taken”.
Contrary to much subsequent opinion, the marriage was for many years a happy one. With Nelson often away at sea for long periods, the couple corresponded frequently, their letters showing an affectionate, if formal, relationship. The marriage was a good match for Nelson. Still young, without prize money and relatively unknown, it brought him a degree of respectability. It also offered the prospect of substantial wealth, for Frances stood to inherit a significant estate from her uncle.

A miniature of Lady Nelson by Daniel Orme, 1798. Frances and Horatio were happily married for many years. (© National Maritime Museum London)
The newlywed couple spent the next five years in England, with Nelson periodically – and unsuccessfully – petitioning the Admiralty for a command. With the navy reduced to a minimum footing, there were too few active ships for even a promising naval officer. Residing over a hundred miles from London, in Norfolk, and seemingly forgotten by the naval establishment, he lived the life of a country gentleman, waiting for his opportunity.

1 February 1793: Nelson goes to war with the French

More than any other event, the outbreak of war between Britain and France changed Nelson’s life. His career was seemingly going nowhere – but then, all of a sudden, the deteriorating relationship between the two nations transformed his prospects.
Since the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, Britain had watched nervously as the political regime grew more extreme, and revolutionary armies marched across Europe. The French invasion of the Low Countries in late 1792 and the execution of Louis XVI in January 1793 heightened British fears. As the two nations edged closer to war, the British government began to mobilise its navy in preparation, and on 6 January 1793 Nelson was given command of the 64-gun ship Agamemnon.

James Gillray’s cartoon from 1798, entitled Fighting for the Dunghill, or, Jack Tar Settling Buonaparte, shows a stout British sailor bloodying the nose of Napoleon Bonaparte. (© National Maritime Museum London)
On 1 February 1793, France declared war on Britain, a turn of events that would be the making of Horatio Nelson. He was immediately sent to the Mediterranean, where he learnt from one of the most able commanders in the fleet, Lord Hood. In the following years, he saw service across the Mediterranean, and won a reputation as a promising officer. He was given his first independent squadron command, blockading the French and Italian coast, and supporting the Austrian army.
Nelson also secured the attention of Admiral Sir John Jervis, the commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean fleet. Then, in April 1796, Jervis promoted him to the rank of commodore. In the following years, in the crucible of war, Nelson would go from being one of many hundreds of ambitious officers, to the nation’s greatest admiral.

14 February 1797: A high-risk manoeuvre pays spectacular dividends

Nelson’s actions at the battle of Cape St Vincent saw him catapulted onto the national stage for the first time. On 14 February 1797, Sir John Jervis intercepted a Spanish fleet off the coast of southern Portugal. Nelson recognised that Jervis’s expansive tactical manoeuvre could not be completed, and that the enemy fleet would soon escape. He took his ship, the Captain, out of the line of battle and attacked the leading Spanish ships, closely followed by Culloden, under the command of his friend and rival Thomas Troubridge. An intense fight ensued; amid the broadsides, Nelson’s ship came alongside the San Nicolas. Seizing the opportunity, Nelson launched a daring boarding attempt, which forced the ship’s surrender. He then executed a successful boarding of a second Spanish ship, the San Josef, which had also become entangled.

Nelson receives the surrender of the San Nicolas at the battle of Cape St Vincent, a clash that made his name in Britain. (© National Maritime Museum London)
Nelson’s decision to take his ship out of the line was a risky endeavour. Had the action failed he could have faced a court-martial for disobeying orders. No one though, not least Jervis, could deny that he had played an important role in winning the battle: of the four ships captured, two had been taken by Nelson.
Nelson took steps to ensure that his deeds would be read about across Britain. In a canny public relations exercise, he sent home his own account of the battle, which gave a dramatic description of his actions. As a result, his successes were widely reported in the press and, in recognition of his chivalry, he was made a knight of the Bath.

25 July 1797: A Spanish musket ball creates a one-armed icon

A pinned and empty sleeve is as indicative of Nelson as a hand thrust into a waistcoat is of Napoleon. However, the events that led to this instantly recognisable injury are rather less familiar. Fresh from his dazzling exploits at the battle of Cape St Vincent, Nelson was given command of a squadron and ordered to capture Spanish merchant vessels, and their cargoes of bullion, at Santa Cruz on Tenerife.

A combined knife and fork that Nelson used after losing his right arm. (© National Maritime Museum London)
The first assault was directed at the forts to the east of the town and was a total failure. The second, led by Nelson himself, was a landing force of sailors and marines aimed at the town. It fared even worse, and the severe cost in casualties included the admiral. Nelson’s right arm was shattered by a musket ball, and his life may have been saved by the actions of his stepson, Josiah Nisbet, who staunched the bleeding with neckerchiefs used as tourniquets.

The first letter that Nelson wrote with his left hand. (© National Maritime Museum London)
Back on board his flagship, Theseus, Nelson’s arm was immediately amputated by the surgeon Thomas Eshelby on 25 July. His return to active command of the squadron was remarkably rapid, but a letter in the collections of the National Maritime Museum (pictured below) – the first he wrote with his left hand – reveals the despair and self-doubt that the injury provoked in him. Addressed to his superior, Admiral Jervis, it reads: “I am become a burthen to my friends and useless to my Country,” and continues: “I become dead to the World I go hence and am no more seen.”

21 May 1798: Disaster at sea provides a salutary lesson

Nelson’s successes as a naval officer owed much to the professionalism of the institution in which he served, and his own concerted efforts to hone his knowledge and expertise. The latter involved plenty of mistakes but, crucially, he strove to learn from them. One of the most significant was an incident in 1798, when Nelson’s flagship, the Vanguard, was dismasted in a storm while serving in the Mediterranean. While the blame lay as much on his flag captain, Edward Berry, the incident served to highlight the questionable seamanship of both officers. Vanguard was towed to safety by the Alexander, whose captain, Alexander Ball, had reduced his sails during the storm, and so preserved his rigging.

Nicholas Pocock’s 1810 watercolour shows Nelson’s ship, the Vanguard, under tow after it was dismasted in a storm. Nelson blamed the incident on his “consummate vanity”. (© National Maritime Museum London)
Coming only a year after his glorious actions at Cape St Vincent, and at a time when he had recently been promoted to rear-admiral, the incident threatened to severely blot Nelson’s professional reputation. He wrote a long, self-critical letter to his commanding officer, Lord St Vincent (formerly Sir John Jervis), taking full responsibility for the incident, and blaming it on his “consummate vanity”. He had learned an important lesson: while higher rank provided opportunities for fame and glory, an officer neglected his duties as a seaman at his peril. “I hope,” wrote Nelson, “it has made me a better officer as I believe it has made me a better man.” Just over two months later, Nelson would demonstrate this in the most dramatic manner possible.

1 August 1798: The Nile turns a British hero into a global superstar

If the battle of Cape St Vincent had made Nelson famous, then his success at the battle of the Nile turned him into an international celebrity. After a long and frustrating search, Nelson finally tracked down a French fleet that had escaped from Toulon to Aboukir Bay in Egypt. The 13 French ships of the line that had escorted Napoleon’s army to Egypt lay anchored in what they believed was a strong position across the bay.

Nelson stands in the Nile culling crocodiles in James Gillray’s cartoon Extirpation of the Plagues of Egypt (1798). The crocodiles represent captured or destroyed French ships at the battle of the Nile, while Nelson is cast as a cross between Moses and Hercules. (© National Maritime Museum London)
Taking a calculated risk, Nelson ordered an attack. As the British ships approached, Captain Thomas Foley of the Goliath noticed that there was room on the landward side of the French line, and was followed by the next four ships. The remainder of the fleet attacked the French from the seaward side, doubling the attack on the enemy’s ships by assailing them from both directions. The battle raged into the night; French ships surrendered in turn, and by the following morning 11 had capitulated or been destroyed. Only two ships of the line had managed to escape.

This silver cup was presented to Nelson following his victory at the battle of the Nile. (© National Maritime Museum London)
The battle of the Nile was Nelson’s most decisive victory. French naval power had been virtually removed from the Mediterranean, while Napoleon’s army was left stranded in Egypt. News of the battle crossed Europe: Haydn wrote the Nelson Mass, while the victory encouraged the formation of a second European coalition against France. The triumph was celebrated across Britain, where a vast array of commemorative material ranging from ribbons and pipes to domestic furnishings  hailed Nelson’s achievements.

22 September 1798: Nelson embarks on his great love affair

Nelson had encountered Lady Hamilton once before. Ordered to Naples in the summer of 1793, the then little-known captain of the Agamemnon was entertained at the residence of the British minister, William Hamilton, and his glamorous wife. By then, Emma Hamilton already enjoyed European fame as an artist’s model, a singer, and also for her ‘attitudes’: neoclassical tableaux vivants that she performed to immense acclaim.

George Romney’s portrait of Emma Hart, later Lady Hamilton, in the 1780s. Her affair with Nelson proved something of a stumbling block to writers wishing to cast Britain’s great naval hero as a paragon of Christian virtue. (© National Maritime Museum London)
The 35-year-old officer was doubtless flattered by her company. A great deal had changed in the interval before their second encounter in 1798. As victor of the Nile, Nelson was now at the centre of the national and international stage himself. Emma realised that, following the crushing defeat of the French fleet in Aboukir Bay, his arrival in Naples was an unprecedented opportunity to enhance her own celebrity by association. She wrote him a letter of gushing adulation: “My dress from head to foot is alla Nelson… Even my shawl is in blue with gold anchors all over. My earrings are Nelson’s anchors; in short, we are be-Nelsoned all over.”

This gold betrothal ring is one of a pair exchanged by Nelson and Lady Hamilton. (© National Maritime Museum London)
When Nelson’s flagship, Vanguard, dropped anchor on 22 September, Emma made a dramatic appearance on deck where, in Nelson’s words, she “fell into my arms more dead than alive”. The love affair that followed was the defining relationship of his later years and – as Nelson grew ever more cold and distant to his estranged wife, Fanny – a goldmine for caricaturists. However, for Victorian commentators determined to find only a desire for duty and service burning in their warrior exemplars, it posed something of a challenge.

21 October 1805: Tragedy and triumph at Trafalgar

The day that cost Nelson his life was the culmination of his professional career. On 19 October, word arrived that the combined French and Spanish fleets sheltering in Cadiz harbour were putting to sea. Shortly after daybreak on the 21st, Nelson saw the enemy masts crowding the horizon. The ensuing encounter at Trafalgar was one that Nelson had been determined to engineer, and which he exploited as fully as possible.
Nelson perfectly understood the altered realities of war in the Napoleonic era: in his words, it was “annihilation that the Country wants, and not merely a splendid victory”. His tactics – in part novel, in part adapted from precedent – were rigorously directed to that end, and had been communicated to his captains in the weeks before the battle. Nelson ordered his fleet to form two divisions. Sailing straight at the enemy line, these would smash through their formation, precipitating a close-range, pell-mell, and above all decisive engagement.

The vice-admiral’s undress coat worn by Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar, featuring a bullet hole on the left shoulder, close to the epaulette. (© National Maritime Museum London)
However, approaching at barely walking pace it took hours of nerve-shredding anticipation before the two forces met. Nelson spent some of that time composing a prayer in his private journal and adding a codicil to his will petitioning the nation to provide for Emma.
When battle came, it unfolded much as he predicted. Nelson was struck by a musket ball at 1.15pm. The manner of his death later that afternoon – with triumph by then assured – might almost have been scripted by him too. The undress uniform coat he wore that day is, and will remain, a treasure of the National Maritime Museum’s collections.

9 January 1806: A nation venerates its fallen hero

This was a day that cemented Nelson’s status as a national icon. News of Trafalgar had reached Britain in early November 1805, and jubilation at the victory was mixed with mourning for Nelson’s loss. The king approved a state funeral and, on 5 January 1806, the Painted Hall at the Royal Hospital in Greenwich was thrown open for the public to view Nelson’s coffin.
On 8 January, a grand funeral procession began. Nelson’s body was carried upriver in a state barge to Whitehall Stairs. Surrounded by ceremonial craft, and with thousands thronging the banks of the Thames, it was a spectacle matched only by the events of the following day.

A ticket to Lord Nelson’s funeral at St Paul’s. “You might have heard a pin fall,” said Lady Bessborough of the moment the coffin appeared. (© National Maritime Museum London)
Early that morning the coffin commenced its final journey – this time through the streets of London – mounted on a funeral carriage designed to resemble a warship. Its destination was St Paul’s Cathedral, and a service crowded with politicians and dignitaries. At its climax the coffin descended into the crypt, and a party of Victory’s seamen, tasked with placing one of the ship’s flags with Nelson, chose instead to tear off pieces as mementos.
With war still raging against Napoleon, it is certain that the funeral’s ceremonial magnificence was stage-managed to stiffen national resolve. Nonetheless, it also revealed the wide and unforced social resonance of Nelson’s life and achievements. As Lady Bessborough recalled: “The moment the Car appear’d which bore the body, you might have heard a pin fall, and without any order to do so, they all took off their hats.”
Dr Quintin Colville and Dr James Davey are curators of naval history at the National Maritime Museum.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

8 things you (probably) didn’t know about the Woodvilles

History Extra

Elizabeth Woodville (1437–1492) in 1463. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
One of 12 surviving siblings, Elizabeth herself was the product of a runaway match between Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, and a knight, Sir Richard Woodville. Here, Susan Higginbotham, author of The Woodvilles: The War of the Roses and England's Most Infamous Family, reveals eight things you might not have known about Edward IV's in-laws…

1) Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, could have become queen

When Henry V died in 1422, he left his infant son, Henry VI, as king. During the royal minority, Henry V's younger brothers, John, Duke of Bedford, and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, governed the kingdom – Bedford was in charge of the crown's French possessions, while Gloucester handled affairs at home.
In 1433, the widowed Bedford took as his second wife Jacquetta de Luxembourg, the 17-year-old niece of the Bishop of Thérouanne. Had little Henry VI died, under the usual order of succession Bedford would have become king of England, and Jacquetta his queen.
This, of course, did not happen. Instead, Bedford died after just two years of marriage, leaving Henry VI to grow up to rule disastrously on his own, and Jacquetta to make a shocking, secret marriage to Sir Richard Woodville, the son of Bedford's chamberlain. But although Jacquetta never wore a crown, her daughter Elizabeth would, through making her own clandestine marriage to Edward IV.

2) Elizabeth Woodville founded Queens' College – again

Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI's queen, founded a college at Cambridge in 1448. When Henry VI lost his crown to Edward IV, the college fell on hard times. Enter Elizabeth, Edward's queen. In 1465 she refounded the college, and gave it its first statutes 10 years later.
It is often said that the placement of the apostrophe in Queens' reflects the fact that two queens founded the college, but the college disputes that story. Even if Elizabeth can't claim credit for the placement of an apostrophe, her portrait hangs in the college.

3) Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, was accused of witchcraft

In 1469, Edward had a falling-out with Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, over foreign policy and over what Warwick believed was the undue influence Edward gave to upstarts such as the Woodvilles.
Relations between the two deteriorated to the point where Warwick revolted against Edward, taking him prisoner and killing Elizabeth Woodville's father and her brother John.
During this period of upheaval, a follower of Warwick produced some lead images that he claimed Jacquetta had made for the purposes of witchcraft and sorcery. Despite the shock of her recent bereavement, Jacquetta refused to be cowed by the accusations, and wrote to the mayor and the aldermen of London for their assistance, which they granted.
Further intervention proved unnecessary, however, for Warwick found it decidedly awkward to keep holding the king captive, and released him. With Edward back in charge, the king’s council cleared Jacquetta of the charges against her. The accusations of witchcraft did not die, however, but were revived by Richard III in 1484, when his parliament declared that Jacquetta had used witchcraft to procure her daughter's marriage to the king.

Elizabeth Woodville with Edward IV in 1464. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

4) Anthony Woodville helped save London from a Lancastrian attack

Warwick reconciled with Edward IV, but the amity was short-lived. In 1470, Warwick allied with the exiled Margaret of Anjou to put the now imprisoned Henry VI back on the throne. Having been forced to flee the country, Edward IV returned to reclaim the throne and defeated the Lancastrians at the battles of Barnet (14 April 1471) and Tewkesbury (4 May 1471).
The Yorkist victory at Tewkesbury, however, did not end the conflict. Although Warwick was killed at Barnet, and Henry VI's teenage son was killed at Tewkesbury, Henry VI remained alive inside the Tower of London. With the thought of freeing him, a Neville relation known as the Bastard of Fauconberg launched an attack on London, which Edward had left in the charge of the Earl of Essex and Anthony, Earl Rivers, Elizabeth Woodville's brother.
As Fauconberg's men attacked Aldgate, Anthony drove them back, thus helping save London for the Yorkists – a feat his contemporaries would remember in verse: "Through his enemies that day did he pass / The mariners were killed, they cried "Alas!"


5) While abroad, Anthony Woodville was robbed

The most cultivated of the Woodville family, Anthony went on pilgrimage to Italy in 1476. The 2nd Earl Rivers did not travel light, and in Venice he was robbed of his jewels and plate, which were worth at least 1,000 marks.
It helps a traveller, however, to be the brother-in-law of the king of England. The Venetians promptly set about searching for the criminals and restoring to Anthony his jewels – which had been purchased by local citizens – while arranging to reimburse those who had bought the purloined goods in good faith. When Anthony finally resumed his travels, the Venetians were probably happy to see the last of him, as he had been a rather expensive visitor.

6) Anthony Woodville was a ‘techie’

In late 1475 or early 1476, William Caxton brought a newfangled device to England – the printing press. Soon he had produced the first book printed in England: an edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s ever-popular Canterbury Tales.
The nobility, however, were slow to embrace this new technology, with Edward IV himself preferring to amass illuminated manuscripts. One nobleman, however, seized upon this new opportunity to disseminate knowledge to the masses: Anthony Woodville. He translated three books for Caxton to print, and may have been responsible for sending several others to press as well.
Caxton even made a joke about Anthony's love life. In his epilogue to Anthony's translation of The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers (a book which, sadly, has not withstood the test of time), Caxton noted that Anthony had omitted some of Socrates' unflattering observations about women. He surmised: “But I suppose that some fair lady hath desired him to leave it out of his book. Or else he was amorous on some noble lady…”

c1800: Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers. Engraved by Gerimia from the book A Catalogue of the Royal and Noble Authors published 1806. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

7) The Woodvilles didn't rob the treasury

In 1483, Edward IV suddenly died, leaving a 12-year-old heir, Edward. By the time the dust settled, Edward IV's younger brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was king (Richard III), and Prince Edward and his younger brother had been taken to the Tower of London, never to be seen again.
For reasons that remain debatable, Gloucester arrested Anthony Woodville and several others after Edward IV's death, and Elizabeth Woodville fled into sanctuary. Legend has it she took with her part of the royal treasury, which she supposedly divvied up between one of her brothers and her oldest son from her first marriage. But did this really happen?
The sole source for the story is an Italian observer, Dominic Mancini, who reported the treasury story only as a rumour he had heard, not as an established fact. Richard III never accused Elizabeth or her family of stealing royal treasure, nor is there is any evidence that he believed any treasure was missing. In fact, as historian Rosemary Horrox has shown, excursions against the Scots had left the treasury seriously depleted by the time Edward IV died, and defending the realm against French pirates left England even poorer.
One Woodville, however, did acquire a very large sum during this time: Sir Edward Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville's youngest brother, who was busy patrolling the seas when Anthony was captured. In mid-May 1483 he seized some £10,250 in English gold from a vessel, claiming it for the crown. Soon afterward, learning that Gloucester had ordered his arrest, Edward sailed to Brittany – presumably taking his gold with him, for it was never heard of again.

8) Sir Edward Woodville lost his teeth for Ferdinand and Isabella

Having helped Henry Tudor defeat Richard III at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, Edward went to Spain the following year to fight the ‘infidels’, possibly in fulfillment of a vow. Having joined forces led by Ferdinand and Isabella to fight the Moors, Edward was mounting a scaling ladder when he was struck by a stone that knocked him unconscious and cost him his two front teeth.
Visited later by Henry VII and his queen, Edward quipped of his missing teeth: “Our Lord, who reared this fabric, has only opened a window in order to discern the more readily what passes within.”
When Edward finally returned to England, he did not go empty-handed: Queen Isabella sent him away with 12 Andalusian horses, two beds with rich hangings, and other valuables. But Edward's next foreign adventure proved to be his last: in 1488, he was killed while fighting for Brittany against France.

Susan Higginbotham is the author of The Woodvilles: The War of the Roses and England's Most Infamous Family (The History Press, March 2015), the first non-fiction book on the Woodville family. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

What the world’s oldest calculator tells us about the Ancient Greeks' view of the Universe

Ancient Origins

When we talk of the history of computers, most of us will refer to the evolution of the modern digital desktop PC, charting the decades-long developments by the likes of Apple and Microsoft. What many don’t consider, however, is that computers have been around much longer. In fact, they date back millennia, to a time when they were analogue creations.

Today, the world’s oldest known “computer” is the Antikythera mechanism, a severely corroded bronze artefact which was found at the beginning of the 20th Century, in the remains of a shipwreck near the Mediterranean island of Antikythera. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the importance of the Antikythera mechanism was discovered, when radiography revealed that the device is in fact a complex mechanism of at least 30 gear wheels.
The mechanism has since been established as the first known astronomical calendar, a complex system which can track and predict the cycles of the solar system. Technically, it is a sophisticated mechanical “calculator” rather than a true “computer”, since it cannot be reprogrammed, but nonetheless an impressive artefact.
Since 2004, an international collaboration has applied modern imaging methods to probe the mechanism’s structure and function. These techniques have now revealed many of the texts on its surfaces and even much of the inscription which was buried inside the remaining fragments, as a result of damage during and after the shipwreck.

So what do we know about the mechanism? And what has the deciphering of the texts added?

Inside history

When first made, the mechanism was about the size of a shoe box, with dials on both its front and back faces. A handle or knob on the side of the box enabled the user to turn the trains of gears inside –- originally there were considerably more gears than the 30 that still survive. On the front, pointers showed where the sun and moon were in the sky, and there was a display of the phase of the moon. On the rear, dials displayed a 19-year cycle of lunar months, the 18.2-year Saros cycle of lunar and solar eclipses, and even a four-year cycle of athletic competitions including the Olympic games.
The inscriptions are thought to have been a description for the user of what it was they were viewing as they operated the mechanism. However, the newly published texts add more to what we know of the mechanism: they establish that the positions of the five planets known in antiquity were also shown – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
The planets were displayed on the machine in a way that took account of their rather irregular “wanderings” about the sky. Such a display had been suspected, and the confirmation reinforces that this was a very sophisticated and quite complicated device. The actual gear trains needed for the display of the planets are missing – presumably lost in the shipwreck – but we know from the very ingenious way that the sun and moon drives are designed and constructed that the makers of the mechanism certainly had the skills necessary to make the planetary drive.
The newly uncovered inscriptions include passages about what stars were just becoming visible –- or about to be lost in the glare of the sun – at different times of year. The style of these passages is very close to that of a well-known astronomical text by Greek astronomer and mathematician Geminos from the first Century BC. Not only does this tie in perfectly with the presumed date of the shipwreck (around 60BC), but also the latitude – which is implied by stellar data to be mid-Mediterranean – which would fit nicely with the mechanism originating on the island of Rhodes, from where there is a contemporary historic record from the writer Cicero of such devices.

Uncovering the truth

Some mysteries still remain, however. It is still not clear exactly what such a mechanism was actually for. Was it some kind of teaching device? Would it have had any religious significance? Was it a prestigious “toy”? The latter interpretation is seeming less and less likely. This was a serious bit of kit, with a very detailed astronomical description.
The mechanism is basically an astronomical device, which bears witness both to the Greeks’ astronomical knowledge and their extraordinary, and rather unrecognised, mechanical design skills. One other small detail may hint at its integration into our ancestors' view of the wider world too. Some of the texts seem to be discussing the possible colours of eclipses, which might be interpreted in the context of whether the eclipse was a good or bad omen. It must be emphasised that this is the only astrological reference found on the mechanism though, despite careful searching.
To understand the Antikythera mechanism, what is really needed is more artefacts or texts on mechanical devices from the classical era. Unfortunately, the recycling of valuable metal, both in ancient and medieval times, has resulted in nearly all mechanisms being destroyed. There is always the possibility that another device or text might turn up at an extensive archaeological site like Pompeii or Herculaneum, but probably the best bet for hardware remains classical-era shipwrecks.
Divers have returned to the Antikythera wreck this year, so perhaps the missing parts of the planetary display will turn up. An enticing possibility is that the Antikythera mechanism was on the ship because it was being delivered to a customer. The mechanism was not, as sometimes claimed, a navigational device and navigation was not the reason for its presence. If one device was being delivered, might there be more – if not on this ship, then perhaps on others from Rhodes? New devices might help indicate how widely geared technology developed, before almost completely disappearing from view in the rather obscure period that lasted from 500AD until the sudden blossoming again of gearwork in the era of the medieval cathedral clocks from about 1180AD, well over a millennium after the Antikythera mechanism.
Top image: Antikythera Mechanism, National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The article ‘ What the world’s oldest calculator tells us about the ancient Greeks' view of the universe’ by Mike Edmunds was originally published on The Conversation and has been republished under a Creative Commons license. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Isabella of France: the rebel queen

History Extra

Isabella of France. From the book 'Our Queen Mothers' by Elizabeth Villiers (1936). (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

Here, writing for History Extra, Warner offers a vivid account of this most fascinating and influential of women…

Isabella of France married King Edward II of England in Boulogne, northern France, on 25 January 1308 when she was 12 and he was 23. She was the sixth of the seven children of Philip IV, king of France from 1285 to 1314 and often known to history as Philippe le Bel or Philip the Fair, and Joan I, who had become queen of the small Spanish kingdom of Navarre in her own right in 1274 when she was only a year old.
Isabella’s two older sisters, Marguerite and Blanche, died in childhood, as did her younger brother, Robert. Her three older brothers all reigned as kings of France and Navarre: Louis X, who died at the age of 26 in 1316; Philip V, who died aged 30 at the beginning of 1322; and Charles IV, who died at the age of 33 in 1328. The three brothers were the last kings of the Capetian dynasty that had ruled France since 987. As they all died leaving daughters but no surviving sons, they were succeeded by their cousin Philip VI, first of the Valois kings who ruled France until 1589.
Isabella’s son Edward III of England claimed the throne of France in the 1330s as the only surviving grandson of Philip IV, and began what much later became known as the Hundred Years’ War.
Isabella arrived in England for the first time on 7 February 1308. She never met her husband’s father Edward I (or ‘Longshanks’), who had died on 7 July 1307, and she certainly never met William Wallace (as depicted in Braveheart), who had been executed on 23 August 1305.
She and Edward II were jointly crowned king and queen of England at Westminster Abbey on 25 February 1308, exactly a month after their wedding. Isabella was too young to play any role in English politics for a few years, and likewise too young to be Edward’s wife in more than name only. Since the early 1300s, Edward II had been infatuated with a young nobleman of Béarn in southern France called Piers Gaveston, whom he made Earl of Cornwall and married to his royal niece Margaret de Clare in 1307.
Gaveston was assassinated in June 1312 by a group of English barons sick of his excessive influence over the king. The barons were led by the wealthy and powerful Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who was Edward II’s first cousin and Isabella’s uncle (the younger half-brother of her mother, Joan I of Navarre). The king finally gained his revenge on Lancaster 10 years later when he had him beheaded for treason in March 1322.

Edward II. Wood engraving c1900. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
Queen Isabella, now 16 or 17, was already pregnant with her first child when her husband’s beloved Piers Gaveston was killed, and her son was born at Windsor Castle on Monday 13 November 1312. He was the future Edward III, king of England from January 1327 until June 1377. Three more children were born to the royal couple. They were John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall, in August 1316; Eleanor of Woodstock, duchess of Guelders, in June 1318; and Joan of the Tower, queen of Scotland, in July 1321.
Isabella and Edward II seemingly had a successful, mutually affectionate marriage until the early 1320s, and certainly it was not the unhappy, tragic disaster from start to finish as it is sometimes portrayed. Most of the negative stories often told in modern literature about the couple – for example that Edward gave Isabella’s jewels or wedding gifts to Piers Gaveston in 1308, that he abandoned her weeping and pregnant in 1312 to save Gaveston, or that he cruelly removed her children from her custody in 1324 – are much later fabrications.
An eyewitness to the royal couple’s extended visit to Isabella’s homeland from May to July 1313 stated that Edward loved Isabella, and that the reason for his arriving late for a meeting with Isabella’s father Philip IV was because the royal couple had overslept after their night-time “dalliances”. During this trip, Edward saved Isabella’s life when a fire broke out in their pavilion one night, and he scooped her up and rushed out into the street with her, both of them naked.

Edward III. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Unfortunately, Edward II’s excessive favouritism towards his last and most powerful ‘favourite’, Hugh Despenser the Younger, an English nobleman who had married one of Edward’s nieces in 1306 and who was appointed as the king’s chamberlain in 1318, was to cause an irrevocable breakdown in Isabella and Edward’s marriage in and after 1322. Isabella had tolerated her husband’s previous male favourites, including Piers Gaveston and Roger Damory (a knight of Oxfordshire who was high in Edward’s favour from about 1315 to 1318), but she loathed and feared Hugh Despenser. Not without reason: Despenser seems to have gone out of his way to reduce Isabella’s influence over her husband and even her ability to see him, and Edward II allowed him to do so. When Edward went to war with Isabella’s brother Charles IV of France in 1324, he began to treat Isabella as an enemy alien and confiscated her lands.
Isabella was not a person to tolerate such disrespect. In March 1325, Edward sent her to France to negotiate a peace settlement with her brother, which she did successfully. Some months later, Edward made a fatal error. As Duke of Aquitaine and Count of Ponthieu and a peer of the realm of France, he owed homage to Charles IV as his liege lord, but for various reasons was reluctant to leave an England now seething with discontent and rebellion against his and Hugh Despenser’s greedy and despotic rule. Edward therefore sent his elder son and heir Edward of Windsor, not quite 13 years old, in his place to perform the ceremony in September 1325.
With her son under her control and under the protection of her brother, Isabella imposed an ultimatum on Edward for her return to England and to him: that he would send Despenser away from court and allow her to resume her normal married life with him and her rightful position as queen, and restore her to her lands. Edward, highly dependent on Despenser, refused. Isabella therefore had no choice but to remain in France.
She began some kind of relationship with an English baron named Roger Mortimer, who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1322 after taking part in a baronial rebellion against the king and his favourite but escaped in 1323. Mortimer was a man with the ability and the will to lead an invasion of England and destroy Hugh Despenser and his father, the Earl of Winchester, and, if need be, bring down the king himself. Although their relationship has been romanticised to a considerable degree in much modern literature, it is far more likely to have been a pragmatic political alliance than a passionate love affair, at least in the beginning.
Isabella betrothed her son Edward of Windsor to a daughter of the Count of Hainault in modern-day Belgium in order to secure ships, mercenaries and cash to invade England. Her invasion force arrived in England on 24 September 1326, the first to do so since her great-great-grandfather Louis of France had attempted to wrest the English throne from Edward II’s great-grandfather King John in 1216. The king’s support collapsed almost immediately, and his two half-brothers, the Earls of Norfolk and Kent, and cousin the Earl of Lancaster, joined the queen. Hugh Despenser and his father, and the king’s loyal ally the Earl of Arundel, were caught and grotesquely executed.

Isabella of France at Hereford upon her invasion of England, 1326. (Everett Collection Historical/Alamy Stock Photo)
A parliament was held in London at the beginning of 1327, which decided that Edward II must be forced to abdicate his throne to his 14-year-old son Edward of Windsor. Finally accepting that he had no other choice, he did so, and Edward III’s reign began on 25 January 1327 – his parents’ 19th wedding anniversary. The young king married the Count of Hainault’s daughter, Philippa, a year later.
A regency council was set up to rule the country in Edward III’s name until he came of age. Although Queen Isabella and her favourite Roger Mortimer were not appointed members of it, it seems that they ruled England for several years. Within a very short time, their greed and self-interest made them as unpopular as Edward II and Hugh Despenser had been; Isabella had little capacity for learning from her husband’s mistakes.
In the meantime, the death of the former Edward II at Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire on 21 September 1327 was announced, and his funeral was held at St Peter’s Abbey, Gloucester (now Gloucester Cathedral) on 20 December 1327. How Edward died, whether by suffocation or illness or something else – the infamous red-hot poker is a later invention and dismissed by modern experts on the era – or whether Edward even died at all is still a matter of passionate debate. There is, however, no real reason to suppose that Isabella of France ordered the murder of her own husband. She had sent him gifts while he was in captivity in 1327.

Tomb of Edward II in Gloucester Cathedral. (© Angelo Hornak/Alamy Stock Photo)

Edward III’s first child – a son, Edward of Woodstock – was born on 15 June 1330 when he was 17, and the king was already chafing under the tutelage of his mother and her despised favourite Mortimer. On 19 October 1330, still a month short of his 18th birthday, the king launched a dramatic coup against the pair at Nottingham Castle, and had Mortimer hanged on 29 November. Isabella was held under house arrest for a while, and was forced to give up the vast lands and income she had appropriated; she had awarded herself 20,000 marks or 13,333 pounds a year, the largest income anyone in England received (the kings excepted) in the entire Middle Ages. It was hardly a wonder that Edward III found his coffers almost entirely empty.
Isabella of France was of high royal birth, and her son the king perforce treated her with respect and consideration; he claimed the throne of France through his mother, so could hardly imprison her. After her short period of detention she was allowed to go free and some years later was restored to her pre-1324 income of £4,500. For more than a quarter of a century Isabella lived an entirely conventional life as a dowager queen, travelling between her estates, entertaining many royal and noble guests, listening to minstrels and spending vast sums of money on clothes and jewels. The idea that her son locked her up in Castle Rising in Norfolk and that she went mad is merely a (much later) fabrication with no basis whatsoever in fact.
The dowager queen of England died at Hertford Castle on 22 August 1358, aged 62 or 63, and was buried on 27 November at the fashionable Greyfriars church in London. Her aunt Marguerite of France, second queen of Edward I, was also buried here, and so, four years later, was Isabella’s daughter Joan of the Tower, queen of Scotland. Roger Mortimer, however, was not: the often-repeated tale that Isabella chose to lie for eternity next to her long-dead but never forgotten lover is a romantic myth.
The dowager queen was buried with the clothes she had worn at her wedding to Edward II 50 years previously and, according to a rather later tradition, with his heart on her breast. Sadly, the Greyfriars church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, rebuilt then destroyed again by bombs in the Second World War, and Isabella’s final resting-place is therefore lost.
Kathryn Warner is the author of Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen (Amberley Publishing, 2016).

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

On the trail of the Yorks: 8 places associated with Richard III’s family

History Extra

Cerne Abbey, visited by Anne Neville in 1471. (© REDA &CO srl/Alamy Stock Photo)

Here, writing for History Extra, Dean explores eight places associated with one of history’s most fascinating families…

Richard, Duke of York, and Old St Paul’s Cathedral

Construction on Old St Paul’s Cathedral was begun in 1087. Following a disastrous fire, it had to be largely rebuilt in the 12th century. The structure was immense, dominating the skyline of London for many years. A large wall completely surrounded the cathedral, complete with six precinct gates that were opened every morning.
It was through one of these gates that Richard, Duke of York would pass in order to swear an oath to Henry VI following his failed move against the king at Dartford. As York entered the cathedral, he would have walked beneath the nave’s intricately groined ceiling as he moved through the crowded room towards the high altar. Light streaming in through the exquisite Rose Window would have flooded the room as he made his way up the steps. Standing at the high altar, in front of the tablet encrusted with sparkling jewels, he made his oath to Henry on the sacrament.
A few years later, on 25 March 1458, York would revisit the cathedral as part of the ‘loveday’ procession. This parade of nobles to St Paul’s Cathedral was part of Henry VI’s plan to demonstrate that peace had been restored between competing Lancastrian and Yorkists factions in the kingdom. During the procession, York and Queen Margaret walked hand in hand towards St Paul’s Cathedral. Once inside the nave, with its 12 bays and vaulted ceilings, the group heard Mass. Following the service, the group once again left in procession. While peace seemed to have been restored, the underlying problems had not been addressed, ultimately leading to war.


Cecily Neville and Baynard’s Castle, London

Resting on the banks of the Thames, Baynard’s Castle was an impressive home. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester had rebuilt the residence just west of Paul’s Wharf following a terrible fire in the 15th century. The home eventually passed into the hands of Richard, Duke of York.
Baynard’s Castle was a favourite residence of Richard III’s mother, Cecily Neville, for many years. She was most likely here when she learned of her husband’s death at the 1460 battle of Wakefield, a major battle in the Wars of the Roses, and fearing for her younger sons’ safety, arranged for them to be sent abroad. She, along with her daughter Margaret, stayed and awaited news of Edward’s progress. Following her eldest son’s entrance into the city, a large council met at Baynard’s Castle to ask him to be king. After Edward left the city to defend his new crown, Cecily and Margaret stayed in London.
The Bishop of Elphin (a bishop from Ireland) was at Baynard’s with Cecily when she received news of the 1461 battle of Towton. He wrote to the Bishop of Terni (a bishop from the Roman Catholic Diocese in Belgium, also known as Tournai) saying that he “was present in the house of the Duchess of York” when news of the battle was delivered. After Cecily heard the news, she, along with the bishop, climbed the broad staircase and returned to the chapel to say Te Deum. Her son, the future Edward IV, had won a significant victory.

South front of Baynard's Castle, London, in about 1640 (1904). By artist Andrew Birrell. (Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images)

Anne Neville and Cerne Abbey

As the daughter of the Earl of Warwick, a leading noble who was a staunch supporter of the Yorkist faction, Anne Neville grew up in a Yorkist family. Eventually, following a break with Edward IV, Warwick switched loyalties to the Lancastrian faction, who supported Henry VI as king. Part of the agreement between Warwick and Queen Margaret, Henry VI’s wife, included the marriage of Anne to Prince Edward, the Lancastrian heir. Warwick was sent back to England to prepare the way for Anne and her new husband’s arrival.
After leaving France in 1471, Anne Neville, as part of the Lancastrian party, landed at Weymouth. Following their arrival, they learned of the disastrous defeat at Barnet [in April 1471] and of the death of Anne’s father. While we have no record of Anne’s feelings, Queen Margaret, according to Vergil, “swownyd for feare; she was distrawght, dismayd, and tormentyd with sorow…” She soon recovered, and, gathering her supporters, moved inland.
Making their way to Cerne Abbey, the group was welcomed and offered the abbey’s guesthouse, which had been built by Abbot John Vanne. The abbey, which had been founded in the 10th century, had several wealthy benefactors throughout its history, including Edward IV. Nestled in the Dorset hills, the abbey grew both in wealth and in property. The guesthouse that Margaret, Prince Edward and Anne would have seen was opulently decorated.
Safely ensconced within the abbey walls, Margaret met with advisors to determine her best course of action. Should they retreat back to France or continue onwards without Warwick? While she probably did not have a voice in the decision, Anne would have been present for the discussions that would determine her future. As the room was comfortably warmed by the fire in the large fireplace ornamented with Vanne’s crest, Anne would have listened to her husband and mother-in-law consult with their supporters. It was here that a decision was made to move forward towards battle, which ultimately would end in her husband’s death on a field at Tewkesbury in May 1471.


Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville and Reading Abbey

Elizabeth Woodville, the Lancastrian widow of Sir John Grey [whose family had supported the Lancastrian cause], married Edward IV in the May of 1464, but she had to wait for several months before a public pronouncement was made because the Earl of Warwick was at the time promoting a marriage with France. In September 1464, Edward met with his council at Reading. During the meeting, Edward dropped the bombshell that he had married Woodville some months earlier.
The announcement sent ripples of dismay through the court. John Wenlock reported in a letter that the king’s announcement had caused “great displeasure to many great lords, and especially to the larger part of all his council”. Most of the nobles realised that they would have to reconcile themselves to the marriage, however, since it had already occurred.
On Michaelmas Day, the Duke of Clarence (Edward IV’s brother), and the Earl of Warwick escorted Elizabeth into the large church at Reading Abbey. The church, built with Caen stone, was impressive. The nave was more than 200 feet long and 40 feet wide, and the choir was about 100 feet long. Highly decorated, with beautiful stained glass, elaborate wall paintings, soaring columns and paved floors, the church was a fitting place for Elizabeth to be presented as Edward’s queen to those assembled.

George, Duke of Clarence, and Warwick Castle

Perched on a rocky cliff above the river Avon, Warwick Castle was a residence of several members of the York family. Edward, George, Richard and Anne Neville all spent time in the impressive fortress, which was originally built as a motte-and-bailey castle by William the Conqueror. The castle passed from the Beauchamps and then to the Nevilles, before coming to George, Duke of Clarence.
George and his wife, Isabel Neville, often stayed at Warwick. Entering through the projecting barbican, flanked by a pair of octagonal turrets, the couple would have walked across the drawbridge over the dry moat. Once inside, they would have made their way to their chambers. It was in her chambers at Warwick that Isabel gave birth on 25 February 1475 to Edward. Soon, George’s heir would join his older sister, Margaret, in the nursery.
While often the scene of joyous events, such as the birth of Edward, the castle was also host to tragedy. Isabel gave birth to another son, Richard, in 1476 and both she and the child were brought to Warwick where Isabel died, perhaps of childbed fever. The baby also died. After the death of his wife and child, George arrested Ankarette Twynho, one of his wife’s servants, and accused her of poisoning the duchess. He had her brought to Warwick, where she was tried, convicted and hanged. This was one of George’s last acts, as he was soon arrested and placed in the Tower of London.

Warwick Castle. (© David Steele/

Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, and the Palace of Placentia (Greenwich)

Once her brother, Edward, became king in 1461 Margaret was housed at Greenwich and provided for by him. The palace, which included gardens, courtyards and a 200-acre park, extended from the Thames to the foot of the hill, where Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester had built a stone tower. In his first years as king, Edward IV enlarged the palace and stocked the park with deer.
When Margaret returned to England in 1480 as part of an embassy attempting to draw her brother into an Anglo-Burgundian alliance against France, Edward arranged for an elaborate procession for his sister. The king had provided the royal barge for Margaret, with the master and 24 bargemen attired in new jackets of murrey and blue, embellished with roses. The horses were wearing harnesses of “green velvet, garnished with aglets of silver gilt, bordered with spangels…” Arriving at Greenwich, Margaret was escorted to her opulent chambers, complete with intricately woven tapestries and a feather bed with a valence of velvet. Pieces of woven wool tapestry covered the table containing images of “roses, sunnes and crowns”.
While she was at Greenwich, a large state dinner was given in both Margaret’s and Cecily’s honour. Most of her family, including Edward, Richard and her sister, Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk were in attendance. Margaret stayed in England for about three months, alternating between Greenwich and Coldharbour.


Anne, Duchess of Exeter, and Dartington Hall

Anne was the elder sister of Edward IV, George and Richard III. In 1446 she was married to Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter, who chose to side with the Lancastrians against her father and brothers. His decision eventually led to his downfall. After her husband’s attainder (the forfeiture of his lands and civil rights) in 1461, Anne received grants of land from her brother, which included much of the Exeter inheritance, and retained custody of her daughter. One of the grants of land she received included Dartington Hall, which came to her because of “the true and deep affection which the aforesaid Anne, our sister, has and bears towards us”.
A residence has stood on the land overlooking the River Dart since the 12th century. Richard II granted the area to his half-brother, John Holland, who erected most of the buildings, including a set of buildings laid out in a large double quadrangle. The old hall, located at the north-east corner of the quadrangle, was the earliest part of the structure and dates from the early 14th century.
In the 19th century the home was described by a visitor as “one of the most picturesque and charming seats in Devon… within sound of the murmur of the rushing Dart”.
Following Anne’s death, the home passed through a series of hands, including those of her second husband, Thomas St Leger.

Dartington Hall. (© Jennifer Thompson/

Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk, and Wingfield

Elizabeth was the fifth child and second daughter born to Cecily and Richard who survived early childhood. In 1458, she married John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. Because his mother, Alice Chaucer, was living at Ewelme, John and Elizabeth made Wingfield their main residence. Much of the news regarding her family would have been delivered to Elizabeth while she was in residence at Wingfield.
A large manor house, Wingfield was located a few miles from Eye. As Elizabeth entered the home for the first time she would have crossed a drawbridge over the moat before making her way through the gateway emblazoned on each side with the arms of her new family. Large turreted towers flanked the gateway. Passing under the portcullis she would have reached the courtyard, where she would have seen the quadrangle plan of the buildings.
Life would have been busy in Elizabeth’s new lodgings. The Great Hall sat along the west side of the building. When visitors arrived, large feasts would be held in the hall, with Elizabeth and John seated on a dais. John and Elizabeth had a large family, and several of their children would have been born in her chambers at Wingfield.
The parish church of St Andrew was also nearby. When Elizabeth entered the church she would have seen the brightly painted panelled ceiling of the nave. The font, where several of the de la Pole children were likely christened, had been given to the church by Michael de la Pole, an ancestor of her husband. Eventually both John and Elizabeth would be buried here.
Kristie Dean is the author of On the Trail of the Yorks (Amberley Publishing, 2016).

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Book Launch - L.A. Punk Snapshots by Brenda Perlin

L. A. Punk Snapshots gives readers a window into the world of punk rock and its fans during the 1980s in Los Angeles. As the fledgling punk scene unfolded, sixteen-year-old Brenda Perlin was there to capture history with her camera. Before they became huge international stars, Billy Idol, The Clash, Iggy Pop, The Damned, Bad Religion, T.S.O.L., and many other acts played the L.A. circuit; and Perlin was there behind the scenes. Truly paradoxical, young, naïve Perlin infiltrated the punk world, and the result is a collection of photographs that is sure to please any music fan.

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Stonehenge and Nearby Stone Circles Were Newcomers to Landscape worked by Ice Age hunters

Ancient Origins

About 5,000 years ago, not far from Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain in England, some people built a stone circle smaller than its more famous counterpart. But for some reason, sometime after they built it, they dismantled the circle of bluestones and removed them.

Stonehenge and “Bluestonehenge,” as researchers have dubbed it, and other manmade features within a mile or two of the famous site were newcomers among some very ancient human-worked features in the landscape, a group of researchers says.
The archaeologists published an article this month about Bluestonehenge in the journal Antiquity (closed access) that says it and Stonehenge, a third stone circle several hundred meters away known as Amesbury henge and another at Durrington Walls came much later than when Stone Age hunter-gatherers began building features in wood in the area.
A digital reconstruction of Bluestonehenge by Henry Rothwell
A digital reconstruction of Bluestonehenge by Henry Rothwell (Wikimedia Commons)
About 9,000 years ago, some people built wooden features that may have been ceremonial or ritual in nature—possibly aligned to solstice sunsets. Chemical traces of the pinewood are still detectable in the postholes in the soil near Stonehenge.

Prehistoric people built Bluestonehenge out of bluestones that came from far away and later removed those stones to Stonehenge, the researchers think. The smaller Bluestonehenge monument was connected to its more famous counterpart by a feature called the Avenue—a broad road leading from Stonehenge to the River Avon about 500 meters (1640.4 feet) away.
“Stonehenge has long been known to form part of a larger prehistoric landscape,” write archaeologist Michael J. Allen and his colleagues. “In particular, it is part of a composite monument that includes the Stonehenge Avenue and the newly discovered West Amesbury henge, which is situated at the eastern end of the Avenue beside the River Avon. Inside that henge lies an earlier circle of stoneholes, formerly holding small standing stones; this is known as ‘Bluestonehenge’.”
Features of the immediate landscape of Stonehenge include three stone circles, at Stonehenge itself, at the Neolithic village of Durrington Walls, which are still standing, and another that was taken down—Bluestonehenge.
Features of the immediate landscape of Stonehenge include three stone circles, at Stonehenge itself, at the Neolithic village of Durrington Walls, which are still standing, and another that was taken down—Bluestonehenge. (Drawn by Joshua Pollard for Antiquity)
The researchers said the Avenue has been known for centuries, but in 2008 and 2009 the Stonehenge Riverside Project did more explorations and dug new trenches and ascertained that the road reached the River Avon.
“The aim was to establish whether the Avenue was built in more than one phase, and whether it actually reached the river, thereby addressing the theory that Stonehenge was part of a larger complex linked by the river to Durrington Walls henge and its newly discovered avenue, two miles upstream,” they wrote.
All along from 1719 AD through to the present day, researchers have been analyzing the Avenue and digging in it to determine its parameters and purposes. Scholars have proposed theories about the prehistoric banks, ruts, ditches and ridges and stripes in the soil of the Avenue. There has been speculation that the ancient people dug the ditches of the Avenue and built other monuments in the area to align with the winter and summer solstice sunsets.
The Avenue, a road leading from Stonehenge to Bluestonehenge at the River Avon, was part of a larger network of monuments in the area, including stone circles at West Amesbury and Durrington Walls.
The Avenue, a road leading from Stonehenge to Bluestonehenge at the River Avon, was part of a larger network of monuments in the area, including stone circles at West Amesbury and Durrington Walls. (Photograph by Adam Stanford in Antiquity)
Stonehenge is near three Early Mesolithic postholes that held pine posts 1 meter (3.1 feet) in diameter. These postholes are 250 meters (820.2 feet) west of the Avenue and hint “at the possibility that this unusual solstitial alignment, formed by the ridges and stripes, was recognised long before the Neolithic. These vertical pine posts or tree-trunks were erected, probably one after the other, in the centuries around 7000 BC by hunter-gatherers, three millennia before the beginning of agriculture in Britain. Monuments built by hunter-gatherers are generally rare; although large pits are known from this period, the Stonehenge postholes are unparalleled anywhere for the Early Mesolithic of Northern Europe.”
Also, along the River Avon researchers have found activity from the 8th millennium BC through the 5th millennium BC, “making it, potentially, an unusually ‘persistent place’ within the early Holocene,” the authors wrote. The Holocene was the most recent Ice Age that began around 10,000 years ago.
Stonehenge is situated among a number of nearby prehistoric monuments, including the newly discovered Bluestonehenge, a smaller circle that was 500 meters away at the end of a road leading to the River Avon
Stonehenge is situated among a number of nearby prehistoric monuments, including the newly discovered Bluestonehenge, a smaller circle that was 500 meters away at the end of a road leading to the River Avon. (Wikimedia Commons photo/Michael Osmenda)
As for the bluestones of Bluestonehenge, which are missing, the researchers speculate they were taken to Stonehenge. They say they are uncertain of the date of construction of Bluestonehenge, but it occurred about the same time the people were digging the ditches of the Avenue, building West Amesbury henge and rearranging some other bluestones at Stonehenge.
These works were possibly carried out by people of the Beakers culture, the authors wrote.
“The arrival of Beakers and accompanying continental European styles of mortuary practice and material culture signalled a major social and cultural transition in Britain, including the decline of large-scale labour mobilisation for megalith-building,” their paper states.
One of the authors, archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson, has speculated that stone henges were meant for the dead, and wood henges found in the vicinity were features meant for living people.
Top image: Stonehenge  England (public domain)
By Mark Miller

Monday, July 25, 2016

Ancient Egyptian Logbook of Inspector Who Helped Construct the Great Pyramid Revealed

Ancient Origins

Some of the details of the construction of the Egyptian Great Pyramid are revealed to the public for the first time when they go on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The information comes in the form of a papyri logbook written by an inspector named Merer. While much about the building of the pyramids remains unknown and speculative, the precious text sheds at least some light on the later aspects of the building process.

According to Live Science, Merer wrote in hieroglyphics how he was in charge of about 200 men and gave some information about the construction process while he was working on it in the 27th year of Khufu's reign.
Statue of Khufu in the Cairo Museum.
Statue of Khufu in the Cairo Museum. (Public Domain)
Writing on the document in 2014 (it was unearthed in 2013), the archaeologists Pierre Tallet and Gregory Marouard said that the pyramid was nearing completion when the text was written. Merer wrote that the work at that time was focused on creating the limestone casing to cover the pyramid.
The archaeologists’ research on the logbook was published as an article in the journal Near Eastern Archaeology. They explained in their article that the document is comprised of more than 300 fragments of varying sizes and provides details on the inspector’s daily activities over several months.

Concentration of papyri in the rubble on which the logbook was written.
Concentration of papyri in the rubble on which the logbook was written. (P. Tallet)
The logbook was discovered at the Red Sea harbor of Wadi al-Jarf and Live Science reports that “It dates back about 4,500 years, making it the oldest papyrus document ever discovered in Egypt.”
Apart from the information on daily activities, Merer’s log (and others found at the site) also provide additional interesting tidbits of data. The archaeologists wrote in their articles that:
“Merer's journal also mentions his passage at an important logistic and administrative center, ‘Ro-She Khufu’ - which seems to have functioned as a stopping point near by the Giza plateau. It is especially specified that this site is under the authority of a high rank official, Ankhhaef, half-brother of Khufu, who was his vizier and “chief for all the works of the king” at the end of the reign. Other logs found in the same archive also give information about others missions accomplished by the same team of sailors during the same year, notably the building of a Harbor on the Mediterranean Sea coast.”
Bust of Prince Ankhhaef, Khufu’s half-brother and vizier.
Bust of Prince Ankhhaef, Khufu’s half-brother and vizier. ( Keith Schengili-Roberts/CC BY SA 2.5 )
Live Science reports that it is uncertain how long the logbook will be on display at the Egyptian Museum.
The Great Pyramid, also known as the Pyramid of Cheops and Pyramid of Khufu, is comprised of more than 2 million limestone blocks weighing from 2 to 70 tons. Thus, it is interesting to note that Merer’s logbook explains from where this material was quarried and how it was transported towards the pyramid’s site. Tallet and Marouard’s article says that the logbook:
“records a period over the course of several months – in the form of a timetable with two columns per day – with many operations related to the construction of the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza and the work at the limestone quarries on the opposite bank of the Nile. On a regular basis, there are also descriptions concerning the transportation, on the Nile and connected canals, of stone blocks, which had been extracted from the northern and southern quarries of Tura. These blocks were delivered within two or three days at the pyramid construction site, called the ‘Horizon of Khufu’.”
Some researchers say that the ’Horizon of Khufu’ refers to the pharaoh Khufu’s name for his necropolis.
Left: Part of a papyrus inscribed with an account dating to the reign of Khufu (13th cattle count). (G. Pollin)  Right: Account on a papyrus (A) and a detail of one page of inspector Merer's “diary” (B), mentioning the “Horizon of Khufu.” (G. Pollin)
Left: Part of a papyrus inscribed with an account dating to the reign of Khufu (13th cattle count). ( G. Pollin )  Right: Account on a papyrus (A) and a detail of one page of inspector Merer's “diary” (B), mentioning the “Horizon of Khufu.” ( G. Pollin )
The Great Pyramid is the only Giza pyramid that has air shafts . This pyramid was built with such precision that it has been said that it would be difficult to replicate it even with today’s technology. This point is one of the reasons why so many people are fascinated by the pyramid’s construction.

 Within the Great Pyramid, there are areas that are called the King's Chamber, the Queen's Chamber, and the Subterranean Chamber. It should be noted however that there is much debate over these names and the purpose of the pyramid itself. Mainstream archaeology accepts that the pyramid was built around 2500 BC and commissioned by King Khufu for his tomb. However, much controversy surrounds these conclusions. For example, German archaeologists in 2013, argued that the Great Pyramid is much older and served a different purpose .
The debate over the pyramid’s construction and use continues to enthrall many researchers and, although work continues at the site, many of the questions behind this fascinating ancient structure remain unanswered.
The Great Pyramid of Giza.
The Great Pyramid of Giza. Source: BigStockPhoto
Top Image: One of the papyri in the ancient logbook which documented some details on the later construction period of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Source: Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities
By Alicia McDermott