Saturday, August 30, 2008

Google Earth: Stone Circles, Crop Circles, White Horses

Whilst planning a trip to the UK, I turned on satellite view to find myself a nice green village in the midlands for an overnight - and spotted the remains of a hill fort or stone age earthworks in a field. Nice!

I poked around and found this cool site,, tagline "Why bother seeing the world for real?" They have some nice references, although I find it slightly frustrating that they don't let you load the coordinates into Google Maps yourself from their site - maybe this is a Google Maps API UI issue, though?

Here's the White Horse of Uffington (about it here), a chalk horse on the hill near Uffington, not far from Oxford:

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Another chalk figure is at the Long Man of Wilmington, and in Mexico there is a surprisingly similar Juarez White Horse (I wonder if that one is a hoax).

The Alton Barnes one is from the 1800's and is kept in good modern horse condition:

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There are some fun crop circles, like the one near Doncaster (hey, I'll be quite close to this next month...):

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And here are more crop circles near the M1.

Stone circles don't all turn out so well... I'm disappointed that Avebury is hard to make out, and the Callanish stones in Lewis aren't very visible. Stonehenge is acceptable:

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Another circle in the Lake District is only visible as a ring on earth, at GoogleEarthHacks. I also enjoyed on that site the link to Peru's 13 Stone Towers, an observatory structure - but the massive earthwork remains to the upper left of it are much more impressive to inspect by air.

Ireland's passage graves are very visible, too. Here's Knowth, part of the amazing Boyne Valley collection of sites (where Newgrange is, with other stone age mysteries that are really worth a visit):

Not just for aerial tourism, of course - I was reminded of the folks who've used Google Earth/Maps to find new archaeological remains. A couple years ago, a computer programmer made some important Roman discoveries. Archaelogists are using Google Earth fairly regularly, and some recent Afghanistan sites are due to Google Earth usage by a Ph.D. student.


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Declassified Defense Research and Archaeological Mysteries

Wired online has had a couple recent pieces on defense research on ESP, paranormal, remote viewing, homing pigeons, etc. -- there are a bunch of abstracts now visible in the Scientific and Technical Information Network (a .mil site). Note: It is, in fact, extremely hard to use. Good luck.

I get challenged occasionally as to why a seemingly well-educated, presumably rational person would be interested in the paranormal. I'm always a little surprised by this question: Why not? Do we know everything? Isn't it rational and intelligent to assume we don't yet? Remember, a UFO is just unidentified, it's not necessarily from another planet. It's interesting to me that there are so many worth talking about, and the stories people tell about them are interesting in themselves. I'm certainly open to believing in many things, while being a strong skeptic about what counts as good data and strong argument.

Another really entertaining collection, equally amateur web-design but much easier to use: The Photo Galleries of Mystery from the MMMGroup. Truly, if you like archaeological mysteries, this is the place to browse. Make sure you hit page two, too. It might make you wonder about time travel... The phenomenon of OOPARTS, or Out of Place Artifacts, is a strong feature of the pictures of rock carvings (people with lightbulbs, space suits...) and fossilized items. Here's a blog post about this type of find with particular reference to a find in 19th century Massachusetts, a metal fossil apparently blasted out of solid rock.

On the other hand, sometimes these things are explicit funny fakes; here's a guy who briefly got away with rock art depicting a caveman pushing a shopping cart in a British Museum Exhibit (2005).

Banksy also hung a sign saying the cave art showed "early man venturing towards the out-of-town hunting grounds". It read: "This finely preserved example of primitive art dates from the Post-Catatonic era. The artist responsible is known to have created a substantial body of work across South East of England under the moniker Banksymus Maximus but little else is known about him. Most art of this type has unfortunately not survived. The majority is destroyed by zealous municipal officials who fail to recognise the artistic merit and historical value of daubing on walls."

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Mayan Art

From Chichen Itza this January. The eagle is eating a heart.

I am reading a great book, Breaking the Maya Code, by Michael Coe. The first paragraph says, "It was 12 cycles, 18 katuns, 16 tuns, 0 uinals, and 16 kins since the beginning of the Great Cycle. The day was 12 Cib 14 Uo, and was ruled by the seventh Lord of the Night. The moon was nine days old. Precisely 5,101 of our years and 235 days had passed since the creation of this universe, and only 23 years and 22 days remained until the final cataclysm that would destroy it. So the ancient Maya scribes and astronomers would have calculated, for the day was 14 May 1989, and we were in Leningrad."

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ancient Curses

A 1700 year old tablet with a curse on it was recently unearthed in Leicester (UK). This one immortalizes some guy who stole a coat. It's amazing the things we leave behind us for posterity.
One of the most interesting finds from a site on Vine Street was a 'curse' tablet – a sheet of lead inscribed in the second or third century AD and intended to invoke the assistance of a chosen god. It has been translated by a specialist at Oxford University, and reads: 'To the god Maglus, I give the wrongdoer who stole the cloak of Servandus. Silvester, Riomandus (etc.) ... that he destroy him before the ninth day, the person who stole the cloak of Servandus…' Then follows a list of the names of 18 or 19 suspects. What happened to them is not recorded.
There's another famous curse in Carlisle from the 1500's, recently carved on a stone art object that has supposedly caused all sorts of problems for the town since its installation in 2001: see Curse of the Cursing Stone. The curse itself is in old Scottish dialect, about 500 words, "one of the longest on record"-- it's addressed to the raiders on the Scottish borders, and was read out by priests to advertise their great displeasure with the illegal activities.
I curse their heid and all the haris of thair heid; I curse thair face, thair ene, thair mouth, thair neise, thairg toung, thair teith, thair crag, thair schulderis, thair breist, thair hert, thair stomok, thair bak, thair wame, their armes, thair leggis, thair handis, thair feit, and everilk part of thair body, frae the top of their heid to the soill of thair feit, befoir and behind, within and without. I curse thaim gangand and I curse thaim rydand; I curse thaim standand, and I curse thaim sittand; I curse thaim etand, I curse thaim drinkand; I curse thaim walkand, I curse thaim sleepand ; I curse thaim rysand, I curse thaim lyand; I curse thaim at hame, I curse thaim fra hame; I curse thaim within the house, I curse thaim without the house; I curse thair wiffis, thair barnis, and thair servandis participand with thaim in their deides.
Curses are like legal documents, at least the good ones: they are comprehensive and leave out no body part or aspect of life, and usually they extend into eternity. My favorite curse is literary, Manfred's curse by Byron (it starts at line 200), gorgeous and bitter:
Though thy slumber may be deep,
Yet thy spirit shall not sleep;
There are shades which will not vanish,
There are thoughts thou canst not banish;
By a power to thee unknown,
Thou canst never be alone;
Thou art wrapt as with a shroud,
Thou art gather’d in a cloud;
And for ever shalt thou dwell
In the spirit of this spell.
... And a magic voice and verse
Hath baptized thee with a curse;
And a spirit of the air
Hath begirt thee with a snare;
In the wind there is a voice
Shall forbid thee to rejoice;
And to thee shall Night deny
All the quiet of her sky;
And the day shall have a sun,
Which shall make thee wish it done.
From thy false tears I did distil
An essence which hath strength to kill;
From thy own heart I then did wring
The black blood in its blackest spring;
From thy own smile I snatch’d the snake,
For there it coil’d as in a brake;
From thy own lip I drew the charm
Which gave all these their chiefest harm;
In proving every poison known,
I found the strongest was thine own.
If you know of other good literary or historical curses, I'd be interested in pointers.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

"America's Stonehenge"

Yesterday a friend and I went to see the site in Salem NH called "America's Stonehenge." (No, really, that's what the tourist name of it is.) Having crawled all over farmer's fields in Europe looking for passage graves, dolmens, and standing stones; visited Newgrange and other related sites; seen early archaeological sites in Orkney and Shetland... well, this was still pretty damn good.

It's complex, and dating says it's 4000 BC and younger; the passage graves have genuine boulders propped on supports that look eerily like the European neolithic monuments; as a bonus, there are carvings both on the site and in the visitor's center, claiming to be Ogham and sun-god related. There is even a complex "altar" stone with an underground whisper chamber beneath it.

Less convincing were the smaller "standing stones" and the astronomical alignment theories. We saw a lot of stones that were identical to the stones claimed to be alignment markers, which weren't labelled in any way. Amateur archaeology could be responsible for any number of bad theories and moved stones... but that said, an awful lot of it looked very authentic indeed.

Some of the sites on the topic: pictures of the stone writing, pictures of the site monuments, a timeline of the site's major datings and known historical events, a not bad short article on it, describing the altar stone. Here's the official visitor's site. (They keep pet alpacas there too, who are very pretty.)

All in all, a recommended visit!

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Donner Party, pigs, maps, mayans...

Apparently, the Donner Party cannibalism legends remain unproven.

Do we really need glow-in-the-dark green pigs? Apparently we do, and these ones are better because they are entirely green, not just patchy green like the previous attempts.

Mayan writing is older than we thought. (How old did you think it was?)

And there is a debate going on over whether a 1418 map shows that the Chinese discovered Rhode Island before Columbus found America. The fact that the admiral was a eunuch seems to merit reporting in the TimesOnline.

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Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Stone Balls of Costa Rica

While looking for information on a fellow UI designer at Autodesk whom I heard about at the Group05 conference, I tripped over this article: The Stone Balls of Costa Rica.

Apparently there are hundreds of these round carvings all over the country, ranging in size from centimeters to meters. They are now used as lawn ornaments by the rich! Also, according to this archealogy thread, as doorstops at a tourist cabana. Like all stone artifacts, they aren't reliably dated, and could have been "created" anywhere from AD 200 to 1500.

"For me, the spherical shape probably evolved in response to the need to move these objects. After all, spheres roll in all directions with minimum resistance. We find spheres weighing several tons atop 100 m high hills, so transport was an important consideration," says John Hoopes in the email thread. This argument seems, to me, a bit circular (not to mention spherical). I mean, primitive man moved monoliths to Salisbury plain, without having them spherical. (On the other hand, maybe the ancient English just weren't smart like the Costa Ricans?)

The photo of the stone ball is credited to Erin Bradner, who may or may not be the same one I was searching for at Autodesk. If she is, I think we'll get along just fine! (She also seems to have a respectable publication record in the field of computer-mediated communication, where my dissertation fit as well.)

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

40,000-year-old footprint

More wonderful archaeology: Apparently 40K years ago, size eight feet walked beside a Mexican volcanic lake. This is unexpected news in various dimensions: Telegraph | News | 40,000-year-old footprint of first Americans.

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Saturday, June 25, 2005

Source of Stonehenge Stone

Fascinating find: in the Welsh news, icWales - Archaeologists figure out mystery of Stonehenge bluestones.
The enclosure is just over one acre in size but, according to team leader Professor Tim Darvill, it provides a veritable "Aladdin's Cave" of made-to-measure pillars for aspiring circle builders. Within and outside the enclosure are numerous prone pillar stones with clear signs of working. Some are fairly recent and a handful of drill holes attest to the technology used. ... They were then moved 240 miles to the famous site at Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. The discovery comes a year after scientists proved that the remains of a "band of brothers" found near Stonehenge were Welshmen who transported the stones.

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Monday, June 13, 2005

Europe's Oldest Civilization

This news story in the Independent describes another major archaeological find: evidence of the remains of massive constructions created by a major civilization in central Europe, dating to well before Stonhenge and the pyramids.
More than 150 gigantic monuments have been located beneath the fields and cities of modern-day Germany, Austria and Slovakia. They were built 7,000 years ago, between 4800BC and 4600BC. Their discovery, revealed today by The Independent, will revolutionise the study of prehistoric Europe... Constructed of earth and wood, they had ramparts and palisades that stretched for up to half a mile. They were built by a religious people who lived in communal longhouses up to 50 metres long, grouped around substantial villages.


Thursday, June 09, 2005

Vedic Architecture

I'm fascinated: This odd building called Tower II is being constructed in my home town, Rockville, MD. (As in, "don't go back to.") Here's a quote from their online brochure about it: "All measurements of Tower II, interior and exterior, are proportionally designed to mirror the geometry, or architecture, of the universe. In addition, Tower II has a Brahmasthan (highlighted in gold)—a silent core or nucleus—at the center of the building."

Uhuh. On the other hand, the "green" principles and light principles all sound very reasonable to me. The company that's building it seems to have constructed another award winning building in the same area, and a boutiqeuy mall that I used to hang out at when I was supposed to be at church.

National Conference on Vedic Architecture: The Tower II.


Monday, May 09, 2005

Creswell rock art, oldest in the UK

It's notoriously difficult to date prehistoric rock remains, because rock itself lacks organic material, required for radiocarbon dating methods. Stone megaliths and tombs often have organic remains in or near them, but there's no way of knowing when they were left, relative to the site's creation. It's not uncommon to find layered remains suggesting eras of use and re-use at such sites. Hence the frustrating, unresolved speculation about why all the standing stones were erected. Some very clever work with fortuitous mineral deposits recently allowed dating of some rock art in Britain. Being able to date it accurately has furthered understanding about Ice Age populations in Europe.

Creswell rock art dated: "The dates indicate the stalagmite in Church Hole -- which contains most of the engravings -- formed 12,800 years ago. The results establish once and for all the authenticity and Ice-Age antiquity of the rock art, and make it the oldest known in Britain. Artefacts left by Ice-Age hunter-gathers excavated from Creswell's caves have been dated to 13,000-15,000 years old. The new results indicate the art was probably left by the groups of people who made these artefacts. During this cold period the polar ice caps were much larger than today, resulting in considerably lower sea levels. Due to this, much of the North Sea was dry land -- a vast plain with hills and lakes -- on which it seems small groups of highly mobile hunter-gatherers were living. Archaeologists think that these groups would visit Creswell and other sites in Britain in the Spring to exploit horses, reindeer and arctic hare for their meat, hides and fur. Similar rock art left by these groups had been discovered in France and Germany, but none had been found in Britain until recently. The new dates demonstrate that the groups reaching Britain had the same artistic traditions as their European counterparts. "

cresswell rock art thumbnail


Friday, February 18, 2005

Northumberland Rock Art

Here is a fascinating site for a couple of reasons: the content, if you like prehistoric rock art, like I do; and the weirdly difficult-to-use design, which looks at first glance like it should be really usable, but on inspection proves to be so flexible you can barely get anywhere-- at least not without a thousand clicks you don't entirely understand. Or I couldn't, anyway. I finally picked this as a good way to look at the massively tagged contents: Northumberland Rock Art - Browse by Art Motifs -- if you want spirals, here's where you can find them. morwick rock art, uk  spiral

All in all, obviously a labor of love. Points for passion.

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Friday, November 26, 2004

Bara Hack, the Village of Voices

I tried to find the turn-off for the famous "village of voices" in Pomfret yesterday, but it was too dark. This is a nice overview of links on CT ghost sites. This is a report on the 1971 investigation. An account of a ghostly whistling in Bara Hack. [Edited to add 11/07: Disabling comments due to comment spam that won't stop.]

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Sunday, November 21, 2004

Connecticut Cairns in the News

When I moved to New England, I was excited about the number of unexplained stone monuments and carvings here. Here's a recent story on some cairn-like structures in a Killingworth CT proposed housing development. There's a video to go with it, from the news story on TV. - Saving the 'spiritual stones'

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

"We've definitely found Atlantis."

A story I somehow missed till now, and another unintentionally funny quote: We've definitely found Atlantis 15/11/2004. ABC News Online. "'To understand the enigma of Atlantis you have to have good knowledge of ancient history, Biblical references, the Sumerian culture and their tablets and so on.'"

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