web analytics

And then there’s this

Suffolk has a giant devil dog named Black Shuck who made his first appearance in Blythburgh in 1577, when it broke down the door of Holy Trinity Church, killed a couple of people, burned claw marks in the floor and scampered off. He has reappeared on the usual occasions ever since.

Seven miles away at the site of Leiston Abbey, a dig in 2014 unearthed this big boy. And by big, I mean a vet estimated it would have stood seven feet tall and weighed 200 pounds. A very big boy indeed.

Here’s an article putting the two together. I mean, honestly – if you can’t trust a site called ufoholic.com, who can you trust? And here is a less breathless account in a local paper.

The dog was buried under the site of the monastery kitchens, which would have been demolished some time after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1537. Which would draw a delightful straight line from a very big dog to, decades later, a legend of a very big dog.

But the second article says indications are the dog may have been alive in the 18th C. and was buried with some ceremony. In which case, I’m surprised there isn’t a record of him in some local estate’s accounts. Further (expensive) analysis is probably way down on the county archaeologist’s priority list, which is a shame.

I think we can assume he was a very good boy.

Bonus: my first thought was a turnspit dog. But it turns out, that was an actual breed of little dog with a long body and short crooked legs. Which makes perfect sense for a dog that climbed inside a big hamster wheel and ran for a few hours a day.

The dogs were also taken to church to serve as foot warmers. One story says that during service at a church in Bath, the Bishop of Gloucester gave a sermon and uttered the line “It was then that Ezekiel saw the wheel…”. At the mention of the word “wheel” several turnspit dogs, who had been brought to church as foot warmers, ran for the door.

Queen Victoria kept a few retired turnspit dogs as pets, which wasn’t enough to rehabilitate their reputation. Poor things were considered so ugly and common they were allowed to go extinct.

February 24, 2021 — 7:32 pm
Comments: 5

More Boo!

Meet the lady from Grave 6705 in the bronze age city of Shahr-i Sokhta, now southern Iran. She died between 2900 and 2800 BC. She may have been a foreigner. She was aged between 28 and 35. She was surrounded by rich grave goods. She was six feet tall.

AND SHE HAD A FALSE EYE. Earliest found so far. It wasn’t a sphere; she wore it like an eye patch. It was made out of pitch and animal fat, so it is now black, but some specks of white paint on the surface means it may have been painted white like an eyeball. It was inlaid with fine gold wires radiating from the center, and there are some incised squiggly lines that may be imitation capillaries. I’m unclear whether they were inlaid.

It wasn’t a grave good; she wore it in life for quite a long time. There were two little holes where fine threads attached and held it in place. Both the prosthetic and the threads left marks on her bones. In fact, it looks like she had an abscess possibly caused by this thing.

That’s all we know and that’s cool enough.

But it’s been reported that she was a noblewoman or a priestess and she used the eye to convince people she could see into the future. Which is fun and all, but there’s not a scrap of evidence.

It’s part of an odd contradiction I’ve found since I’ve gotten interested in prehistory. We have never had better tools to examine the past. Radiocarbon dating, DNA testing, chemical analysis of teeth and other organic finds, ground penetrating radar, aerial analysis – it’s simply stunning the good, hard data we can glean now.

But the reports often come packaged with completely unsusbtantiated, fanciful conclusions. I mean, the official reports do (don’t get me started on where journalists go). I mean, we all like to speculate, sure. Maybe if you do the hard work to get a PhD in prehistory, your reward is that your wild-ass guesses get listened to.

February 23, 2021 — 9:32 pm
Comments: 9


We watched The Dig over the weekend, the Netflix dramatization of the dig for Sutton Hoo just before the outbreak of WWII. It was 4/5 a brilliant film that somehow decided to spend its last twenty minutes tying up a minor subplot I didn’t give a shit about. With any luck, there will be a director’s cut with that excised.

Still a recommend.

They worked with the British Museum to get the costumes and sets right. There’s an interesting blog post from the BM here that describes the process. Spoilers, I guess.

And you can take a virtual walk around Room 41 that they’ve somehow built using Google Street View technology.

Very cool.

February 2, 2021 — 8:09 pm
Comments: 12

‘Tis but a scratch

This charming example of Victorian taxidermy – and my charming, I mean disgusting – was in the collection of Louis Mantin, a wealthy eccentric from Moulins. He built an entire mansion around his art collection. Not all of it in execrable taste.

When he died in 1905, he willed the property to the town – on the condition they put it on display and change nothing inside. He wanted people a hundred years hence to see “a specimen of a bourgeois home of the nineteenth century.”

It’s not clear to me that he meant to board it up and completely neglect it for a century, but I haven’t seen the will with my own eyes. Anyway, that’s what they did. Boarded it up and let it gently rot.

After pouring a bunch of money into it again, it opened to the public in 2010. NatGeo has a short slideshow, but you’ll probably see more on an images search.

What it is to have money, with or without taste. Good weekend, all!

Oops! I didn’t hit publish on this last night! Happy Caturday, folks.

January 30, 2021 — 1:10 pm
Comments: 5

Here’s that pitcher of dicks you ordered, ma’am

Standing erect in the stream of Twitter archaeology news every week, we find the #PhallusThursday hashtag.

I feel like there’s a joke here that I’m not getting. Like the word for penis and the word for the fourth day of the week rhyme in ancient Assyrian or something and the PhD archaeologists are laughing at me for not knowing that.

But it’s probably just a cheap opportunity to post dick pics on Twitter.

Try it if you need a break from following #stonks, #GameStop and #robinhood. Phew!

Hey. HEY! I can quit Twitter any time I want.



I’ve had the theme from Phyllis stuck in my head all day. I was a fan. Particularly of that theme song. RIP Cloris Leachman.



January 28, 2021 — 8:53 pm
Comments: 12

Lion optional

We are having a jolly conversation about metalworking in the thread below. BJM says he used to work silver wire and Thracian “Herakles knot” arm bands were a popular item.

I have a new rule under lockdown. Any word or phrase I don’t understand, I immediately stop and look it up. There’s really no excuse not to now, when you can highlight, right click and search all in one swell foop.

Heracles knot is another word for reef knot (AKA square knot, Hercules knot, double knot or brotherhood knot). In jewelry, it is a symbol of love or friendship.

I don’t know how it’s associated with Heracles. I didn’t spend much time looking, though – it’s bath night!

A warning from the International Guild of Knot Tyers (yes, there is):

The International Guild of Knot Tyers warns that this knot should never be used to bend two ropes together. A proper bend knot, for instance a sheet bend or double fisherman’s knot, should be used instead. Knotting authority Clifford Ashley claimed that misused reef knots have caused more deaths and injuries than all other knots combined.

I woke up in a good mood today. No, it didn’t make any sense to me, either, but I held onto it as best I could by avoiding social media. Mostly.

January 20, 2021 — 9:22 pm
Comments: 9

Stare at this beautiful thing!

This is part of the pommel of a sword dug up in 1808 from Bush Barrow, a Bronze Age burial mound half mile from Stonehenge. It’s about 4,000 years old.

Let me ‘splain what you’re looking at. The craftsman extruded a wire a bit thicker than a human hair, snipped off a millimeter of it and flattened the end to make a stud. Like a tiny golden nail. You can see them side-on in the image bottom right.

Then he poked a hole for the nail in a wooden pommel and stuck it in the hole with a resin adhesive. This would have required some sort of awl and some sort of tweezers – these things are way too small for human fingers.

There would have been maybe 140,000 of these tiny gold nails in the final piece, which would have taken an estimated 2,300 man-hours. Yes, I am defiantly using the expression ‘man-hours’.

The article doesn’t say so, but it would have sparkled magically.

The article also quotes an “expert on the optics of the human eye” who said only children or people who ruined their eyesight as children could have done this work, which would impair them for life.

I thought we’d been told that was a myth; that you don’t ruin your eyesight making lace. My optometrist told me it wasn’t so much that my eyesight was deteriorating, as that it was more and more fixed at the distance I used most (i.e. computer screen distance).

Anyway, take it from myopic me; it wouldn’t have impacted life all that much. I go around without my glasses most of the time and life is a pleasant soft and gauzy haze. Minimal bruises.

I tried to find a better site for this story than Ancient Origins, which seems like an ‘aliens invented underpants’ sort of place, but I failed. I also spent quite a while trying to find a YouTube to explain how the ancients made fine gold wire. All the demonstrations of wire-making I could find involve blowtorches and a tool-and-die works. No success so far.

January 19, 2021 — 8:30 pm
Comments: 14

Huh. Actual cavemen carried actual clubs.

Meet the Thames Beater, a 5,000 year old club fished out of the river. The top one; the bottom one is a reproduction they used to beat up test dummies. Turns out, it’s deadly.

Actual study here.

I had to step away from social media today. It was making me ill.

I mean, I peeked a few times, sure.

January 13, 2021 — 8:16 pm
Comments: 8

What am I?

This is a Roman dodecahedron and nobody knows why.

Over a hundred of them have been found, sometimes with hoards of coins. So they had a value. They have been found across Europe and Britain, but not in Italy. They would have been pretty work-intensive to make.

They are hollow cast objects with twelve flat pentagonal faces. Each face is pierced with a hole. The holes vary in shape in pairs (the hole opposite is the same size). The corners have knobs braised on. They are made of an alloy. They range in size from one and a half to four and a half inches. Here are some images.

The best guess is candlestick holder, since two were found with wax inside. I’m inclined to this one, though I’d like to know whether they had teeny candles.

Other guesses are to measure the width of something or the size of things at a distance, though there’s an awful lot of variation for that.

Game pieces, but you couldn’t throw them like dice. The differently-sized holes would make them fall not-randomly.

Purely ornamental, like cane toppers. Seems unlikely to me, since they are so uniform in design and construction.

It’s been puzzling me all afternoon. It can go puzzle you for a while.

November 27, 2020 — 7:15 pm
Comments: 18

Guess how we’re going to celebrate?

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Volstead Act, the law that put the teeth in the 18th Amendment. I speak, of course, of Prohibition. Interesting article about it here.

I know it was a disaster, but to be honest, I kind of admire us for trying. No way human beings would give up the joy of alcohol after who-knows-how-many millennia, but it’s neat that we did something so weird and radical and stupid with such grand American enthusiasm. Yay us.

Nobody quit drinking for long, of course. There were several loopholes.

Sacramental wine. Demand went up by 800,000 gallons a year.

Prescription whisky for them as could afford regular Doctor visits.

You were allowed to drink any alcohol you already owned when the law went into effect, so one wealthy judge reportedly bought a lifetime supply up front.

Poor people began to drink patent medicines and hair dyes and industrial alcohols and all kinds of dangerous and potentially fatal things.

And that’s before we get to smuggling, bootlegging and bathtub gin.

Oh, we drank. And we shall drink again. Good weekend, everyone!

January 17, 2020 — 9:39 pm
Comments: 9