03 January 2012

Vikings, Looters, and the Ness of Brodgar

I started this morning all Gung ho about writing a new post. My (Gregorian) New Year's resolution to Janus included more frequent posting here at the ArchaeoWitch. So I opened my newsreader and email and began reading headlines, looking for just the right topic that every Pagan on the Internet would want to read.

The top runners included an article about searching for Vikings in Sherwood Forest. Vikings AND Robin Hood? Cool. But I'll keep looking.

Hmm, maybe a rant about looters, like those who destroyed a Roman mosaic of Bacchus in Spain over the holidays, or the ones who are bulldozing and dynamiting tombs in China. Too depressing. And my angry typing just might kill my keyboard.

Maybe a post about the 2012 doomsday supposedly predicted by the ancient Maya. (Trust me - lots more on that at a later date, once I stop laughing.)

Then I came across this gem: "Stone Age temple found in Orkney is 800 years older than Stonehenge - and may be more important." Oooh, bingo. I am an early Neolithic nut, after all.

I like to do some real reading before I post on finds like these. I try to limit the time I spend on this part of the process, or I'll disappear into a completely non-productive (though thoroughly satisfying) days-long bout of blissful research.

I already know quite a bit about the area and the era. Think northern Scotland 5,000 years ago. No one escapes archaeological training without some knowledge of the Neolithic Revolution, Skara Brae, and Maes Howe.

Three hours later, I'm still overwhelmed by the significance of the finds. I'm still reading through four years of blog posts, straight from the excavation diary of the Ness of Brodgar. I was also lucky enough to catch BBC2's hour-long program, "A History of Ancient Britain Special: Orkney's Stone Age Temple."

The end result is that I realize that story is going to take about five blog posts to cover. So that's what I'm going to do. Over the next week I'll be doing a multi-parter, a series of posts about the site, what we're learning from it, and why it's significant for modern Pagans.

So stay tuned for the upcoming Part 1 of the Ness of Brodgar series. You're gonna love it! And if you don't, remember: I know how to bury things so they won't be found for thousands of years.

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01 January 2012

Janus as the Patron of Archaeology, and a Resolution

Janus is the Roman God of beginnings and endings, a deity of transition. He is usually depicted with two faces – one that looks backward and one that looks forward. In many ways, Janus would serve as a perfect patron deity for modern archaeology.

In the past, archaeologists were little more than glorified tomb robbers and treasure hunters. Today’s archaeology is more concerned with understanding the processes of human behavior.

We’re not as interested in what we find than in what our finds tell us – about how cultures behave and interact, how they use and distribute resources, and how they impacted the environments in which they lived.

Archaeology is just beginning to realize what Pagans have known all along: there’s wisdom to be gained from our ancient ancestors.

After all, the major issues plaguing mankind have never changed – disease, war, climate change, resource use, and yes, even trash disposal. We just deal with them on a much larger scale.

Understanding how people of the past dealt with these issues can go a long way to helping us deal with them today and in the future. That’s not to say that people of the past had all the answers. They were just people after all, just like you and I. But we can learn from their mistakes as well as their successes. Sometimes looking back is the best way to look forward.

With the New Year upon us, I’d like to take this lesson to heart and apply it on a personal level. Looking back, I realize that I’ve done very little to further my writing career. I want to be able to support myself with my writing, but non-stop Hulu and Netflix and checking Twitter every ten minutes are unlikely to get me there.

In the last year, I’ve only sent out a handful of queries and I’ve only written a handful of blog posts. Hardly the makings of a professional writer. This year I resolve to:

  • Post at least twice each week
  • Send a minimum of two queries or submissions per week
  • To write every single day.
Janus, help me!

Do you have a resolution? What did you do (or didn't you do) over the past year that you want to change? And what are you going to do differently in 2012?

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06 December 2011

Pagan Archaeo Roundup: Dec 6, 2011

Hi folks!

I considered using all of these stories for individual posts. But because I dug up so many great stories this past week, I decided to give you a roundup list.
  • Two more enclosures found at Knowth, one of Ireland's many passage grave sites. The 5,000 year old site continues to impress archaeologists with its complexity and size.
  • Iron Age Celts really knew how to party! Researchers have finally uncovered the process used to make vast quantities of malted barlet, millet, and emmer wheat beer in Celtic Gaul (France).

27 November 2011

Stonehenge Before the Stones

The news feeds are abuzz with the newest find from Stonehenge!

Archaeologists have discovered two pits flanking the eastern and western sides of the Neolithic Cursus pathway - a narrow, oval shaped track that lies about 500 meters (roughly 1/3 mile) north of Stonehenge itself.

The pathway and pits are aligned to the Heel Stone of the monument, and to the Solstices, and they predate the placement of any of Stonehenge's megaliths by at least 500 years.

Researchers hypothesize that if a person started at the eastern pit, facing the rising Summer Solstice sun, then proceed along the pathway, they would basically be following the path of the sun throughout the day, ending up at the western pit as the sun set.

We're not certain what the pits were used for. They were discovered via virtual excavation, using a variety of geophysical imaging techniques that allow archaeologists to "see" beneath the surface of the ground without ever picking up a trowel. Some ideas are that they contained standing stones, posts, or even massive bonfires.

What's so exciting about this find? It offers a rare glimpse into the ritual behavior of the Pagans that lived in the area more than 5,000 years ago. Most believe the Cursus was a path for a ritual procession.

It also adds another piece to the puzzle that is the Stonehenge ritual complex. As impressive as Stonehenge is, it is only one of many ritual sites in the area. Over the years we've come to understand that the entire area around the mega-monument is densely packed with other sites that include henges, pathways, and shrines.

Stonehenge never existed as a discrete, lonely sacred space. It is but one piece of a highly complicated ritual landscape that we're just beginning to uncover and understand. For a wonderful aerial view of the area around Stonehenge and its related satellite sites, check out this satellite image of the Stonehenge sacred landscape.

Here are a couple of links to other articles detailing the find. (Links open a new tab or window)

The find comes to us as a result of The Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project, begun in 2010. You can find out more about the project, including some truly awesome magnetometer imaging, at the Heritage Key site.

The original announcement about the find is from this University of Birmingham press release.

17 November 2011

Feedback Anywitch?

Hey there all you witchy archaeology fans!

This is just a quick update to let you know that I'm spending the day scouring my news feeds, email, and various super-secret sources to find fodder for my next full-length post. Expect that to appear sometime in the next few days!

In the meantime, I'd love to get some feedback. And yes, I'm talking to YOU!

So do me a favor and let me know what interests you most.

Are you dying to know more about the archaeology of the Celts and Druids? Native Americans? Classical Greece and Rome? Posts about dogs, cats, or aurochs? Or something else entirely?

Perhaps you really don't care, and will devour anything I throw your way. If that's the case then tell me that too.

It's easy. Just click on "comments" below, or if you see a comment box already then write something in it!

While you do that, I'm going to dive back into my hunt for some Pagan relevant archaeologica. I can't wait to hear from you guys! And you'll be hearing more from me soon.

In the meantime, keep your trowels sharp and your corners salted!