The Bayeux Tapestry

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The Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry, is some serious piece of embroidery, consisting of 50 scenes, with 632 people, 202 horses, 55 dogs, 505 creatures, 37 buildings, 41 ships and 49 trees.  It measures seventy metres in length, along with Latin captions in the upper and lower margins.

It tells the story of William the Conqueror’s invasion of England and the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

The early stage of the Bayeux Tapestry tells of Harold’s journey to France, and Harold swearing an oath of allegiance to William, promising to support William’s claim to the English throne.

Edward dies, and Harold is crowned King of England, the oath he had made to William meant nothing, for he just disregarded it, to be King.

In February of 1066 a comet was observed in the sky… This was a sign of change, the downfall of the current regime.

Duke William prepared his fleet for the seventy mile crossing to the Sussex coast, in dragon-headed ships, a reminder of Norman – Viking ancestry.

These Norman’s built castles at Pevensey and Hastings and ravaged the countryside.  Harold’s family came from Sussex, so William was challenging him on his own ground.

The tapestry depicted the Battle of Hastings, as the English held the ridge, many on foot with their axes and shields.

The first attack by the Norman’s saw the English protect the ridge.  Some English followed Norman’s down, at the word William had been killed… he removes his helmet and cries out, “I am alive.”  His men rally to his side and kill the English who had come off the ridge.

The Norman’s lured the English into a more vulnerable position, and the Norman Calvary cut them down.  Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, half-brother of William the Conqueror, is depicted with a huge club.  As a Bishop, he could not shed blood, but he could breal a few arms, legs and heads.

The decisive moment of the battle comes, when King Harold was killed as an arrow pierced his eye.

The English fled, at the news of their King’s death, pursued by Normans.

William marches off to London the very next day, and on Christmas Day he is crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey.

One story tells of William’s wife Queen Matilda, and her ladies creating this tapestry… This piece of embroidery for her victorious husband.

If we look back in history, other 11th century queens, have produced embroidered pieces for churches.  However a seventy metre linen, embroidered in wool is something quite different, but one never knows.

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Norman England: The Domesday Book

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The Domesday Book

The Norman invasion of 1066, was led by Duke William of Normandy, who became William I (William the Conqueror), King of England.  He who was a descendant of those pagan Vikings, who attacked coastal communities from Scandinavia, who settled in the Seine Valley in 911.

When King Edward the Confessor died, Harold seized the English throne, and Edward’s promise that William should succeed him, was ignored.  This precipitated a Norman attack, as William claimed his right to the English throne.

England of the 11th century was not only an old country, but one stepped in wealth, one of which was English wool being exported to Europe…

So the Domesday Book was born, for he needed to know how much his new kingdom was worth.  Who owned every piece of land, those who lived and worked it, how much livestock, and set it down as a record.

They recorded the name of the estate, whose name it was in, how much livestock, ploughs, slaves, freemen, sokemen, wood, meadow, pasture and mills.  How much each freeman and sokeman had, and its considered value, thereof.

For it was a record of estates and manors, and how much tax could be levied across the country as a whole… an estate liability.

After the Norman Conquest, William initiated a change of estates and manor ownership, which would be recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.  Some 180 large estates and manors formerly owned by Anglo-Saxons, changed hands to that of Norman Barons.

6,000 farmers, who owned their land, now had to lease it from their new Norman masters.

The Domesday Book described a conquered country to a King, who never uttered a word of the English language, but wanted a detailed record of its ownership, and estimated value for tax purposes.  It paints a picture of early medieval England, with its Feudal System, Local Government and Taxation.

The Doomesday Book was a new start for the country, whose roots were firmly rooted in the past.

Of the sixteen Anglo-Saxon Bishoprics, only one survived, the others were moved to large centres under Norman leadership, and all six Anglo-Saxon Sees were changed to Norman.

By the year 1200, most of the Anglo-Saxon Cathedrals were destroyed and replaced by Norman-Styled Architecture of which many still exist to this day.

William took over a country, down to the last blade of grass, and developed a system, run by his Norman officials, from central to local officials.  For he needed England’s wealth in taxes to pay for his army.

So a demand for tax would be sent to a shire, by representatives of the court, which would carry the royal seal, often backed by military forces to ensure payment.

When Edward the Confessor died, and Duke William of Normandy his chosen successor finally claimed the English throne.  Who would have believed he would milk the country dry by means of taxation, to pay for his own army…

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Neolithic Scotland: Skara Brae

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Skara Brae – Neolithic Settlement Remains

Located on the Bay of Skaill, in the Orkney’s, Northern Scotland, can be found “Skara Brae” a Neolithic settlement.

Humans changed their way of life during the Neolithic Times, from hunters and gatherers with no fixed abode, to the farming and raising of animals.  The changes took place over many hundreds of years.  They found they could control their food sources, by the planting of seeds and cultivation of crops.  They domesticated animals, which provided them with varied sources of meat; cattle, sheep and pigs.

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The site date backs some 5,200 years based on archaeological excavations.  There are ten single room houses, each measuring  thirty-six square metres with no windows, and heated by fire.  The roofs are all but gone, and we have to assume the roof was constructed from turf or timbers with chimney for ventilation.  The village had constructed its own drainage system, with toilets located within each house.

The buildings were constructed from flagstones, layered into the earth, amongst midden, giving greater support.  Space between walls and earth was filled with midden (rubbish) creating natural insulation.

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Each dwelling contained cupboards, beds, seats and storage boxes constructed out of stone.  These people knew how to work stone, even down to their furnishings.

Located at the front of each bed, remain stumps of stone pillars, possibly supporting a canopy of fur, associated with Hebridean life-style.

Builders of Skara Brae, were probably self-sufficient as much as possible.  Bones discovered at the site, shows their stable diet would have consisted of cattle and sheep plus barley and wheat locally grown.  Great quantities of fish bones and shells shows they complimented their food with fish.

Red deer and boar would have been hunted, eggs from seabirds and even birds would have been on the menu.

The inhabitants made grooved ware pottery, which was bowls, vases, pots and containers with flat bottoms and straight sides, decorated with grooves.  This earn’t its inhabitants to be known as the Grooved Ware People of Skara Brae.  They also crafted jewellery, tools and gaming dice.

“Skara Brae” lost for thousands of years, reared its head in the 19th century.

Western Scotland was battered by heavy storms in 1850, and much sand from the beaches was blown away, revealing parts of a few structures.  Landowner; William Watt, saw these exposed sections of walls, and excavated four houses.  George Petrie started his excavations, and presented his findings to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in April of 1867.

Work on the site came to a halt, and remained untouched until 1913, when the site was plundered for artefacts.  In 1924 storm damage, led to part of a housed being washed away.

Radio-Carbon tests undertaken in 1972-73 confirmed without any doubt, that Skara Brae was occupied between 3180BC – 2500BC, when weather conditions became cold and wet, and the site was abandoned.

Red ochre found at Skara Brae, proves that body painting was taking place.  Artefacts including knives, pins and beads were made from fish, bird and whalebones.

The Neolithic settlement of “Skara Brae” received World Heritage status in December 1999.

These Neolithic people built long barrows as tombs for their ancestors.  They are remembered for the construction of ritual monuments, henges and stone circles; Stonehenge and Avebury Henge, there are many more examples scattered across our lands.

Images: Orkneyjar

Britain’s Early Years: Avebury Henge

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Avebury Henge

Avebury Henge monument consists of three stone circles, located around the village of Avebury in Wiltshire.  It was erected in 2,600 BC, comprising of one large outer circle, with two smaller stone circles situated inside.  Along with a large circular bank with an internal ditch measuring some 460 yards in diameter.

What is its purpose, a question that has baffled archaeologists for years, but they believe it was more than likely used for some form of rituals or ceremonies.

By the time of the Iron Age, it had been abandoned, yet human evidence existed into the time of the Roman occupation, showing that the Roman’s had used the site.

The outer stone circle of the henge, measures 1,088 feet in diameter, originally constructed with ninety-eight Sarsen stones.  With two large polished stones at the southern entrance.

The northern inner ring stone circle, measures 322 feet in diameter, with a cove of three stones in the middle, with a north-east facing entrance, but when erected probably consisted of twenty-seven stones.

The southern inner ring stone circle, measures 354 feet in diameter, with a single stone some 21 feet in height located centrally, along with an alignment of twenty-nine smaller stones.

Around the central point of the obelisk, small yet rough sarsen stones were positioned in a near rectangular format.  The obelisk stone has long since disappeared.

The Avenue:

The West Kennet Avenue of paired stones leads from the south-eastern henge entrance to Beckhampton Avenue to the western entrance.  Which linked the Avebury Henge with ceremonial sites at Beckhampton and Overton Hill.

The henge, with its imposing boundary to the circle, has no defence purpose, because the ditch and bank are located inside the larger circle.

Being a henge, one has to accept that the positioning of the stone circle are related to astronomical alignments.  The site is more than likely laid out for some form of religious function.

The Druids believe that there was an astronomical axis which connected Avebury Henge to Stonehenge, flanked by West Kennet Long Barrow on the west which symbolised the Mother Goddess and Silbury Hill the symbol of masculinity.

In the 5th century following on from the end of Roman Rule, Anglo-Saxons migrated to Southern Britain, where suggestions have been put forward that they used the site as a defensive site.

During the middle ages, many of the stones were buried or destroyed, as it was believed they had a connection to pagan and devil worshipping.

In the early part of Saxon life in Britain, around AD600, a settlement had been built at the henge; a seme-fortified settlement.

King Athelstan recorded a charter in 939 defining the boundaries of Overton, a parish which laid adjacent to Avebury.

In the 11th century Anglo-Saxon armies fought with Viking raiders at Avebury, and the pre-historic monument at Silbury Hill was fortified creating a defensive position.

In 1114 a Benedictine Priory and Church was built upon the site.

In the latter part of the 12th century, Avebury parish church was enlarged at a time of religious revival.

The Avebury stones, which stood tall for all to see along with nearby barrows were given names relating to the devil, before being toppled:  The Devil’s Chair, The Devil’s Den and The Devil’s Brandirons.

Shortly afterwards the “Black Death Plague” struck the village in 1349, reducing the village’s population, as many died.

In 1541 John Leland; Librarian and Chaplan to King Henry VIII, noted the existence of Avebury and its pre-historic monuments.  William Camden published his guide book to British Antiquities in 1586, but made no mention of Avebury, but his 1610 version made a fleeting remark to it.

John Aubrey Antiquarian rediscovered the Avbrey Henge in 1649, and recorded many drawings of the site.  In 1663, King Charles II visited Avebury Henge.

In the early part of the 18th century, William Stukeley doctor-clergyman and antiquarian studied Avebury Henge between 1719-1724.

The village was growing, and stone was much needed for the houses and the church.  He left a drawing for them to follow, how to break these large boulder stones, formerly part of Avebury Henge Pre-historic Monument.  Burn straw in a large pit to heat the stones, pour cold water on the stones, creating a weakness then split them open with a sledge hammer.

The Avebury Henge became listed as a pre-historic and sacred complex with ceremonial avenues lined with stones.  Silbury Hill the largest known man-made mound, the West Kennet Long Barrow a Neolithic burial chamber. A former stone circle Sanctuary.

Druidic rites held at Avebury are called Gorseddau, where they invoke Awen (a druidic concept of inspiration).  They recite the Druid Prayer by Morganwg and the Druid Vow.

One group of Druids (Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri) hold their rites at Avebury’s pre-historic monument.

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Britain’s Early History: Stonehenge

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Stonehenge

Originally constructed on the site, known to-day as Stonehenge, were a number of pits, which supported wooden totem-pole posts, erected between 8,500-7,000 BC.

Around 3,100 BC, a large Henge was constructed, comprising of a ditch, bank and fifty-six Aubrey holes (round pits cut into the chalk, with flat bottoms).  They formed a circle some 284 feet in diameter.

Excavations at the site, have discovered human bones, but opinions believe these holes were not graves, but part of a religious ceremony.  Saying that some sixty plus cremations have been discovered in the area.

Stonehenge was abandoned for some hundred years.  Then life returned around 2,150 BC with the arrival of eighty-two bluestones from the Preseli Mountains in South Wales.  These stones once erected created an unfinished double-circled circle.  At the same time the original entrance was widened, to make way for a pair of Heel Stones, plus other stones being set up in the centre of the monument.

Around 2,000 BC Sarsen stones were brought from Marlborough Downs.  These were arranged to create an outer circle with lintels.  Inside the circle, five trilithons were placed in a horseshoe arrangement.

In 1,500 BC the bluestones were rearranged in a horseshoe and circle arrangement, consisting of some sixty stones.  An earthwork Avenue was built, which connected Stonehenge with the River Avon.

In 1800-1500 BC, some digging took place around the stones of two concentric ring pits… the reason for these pits is unknown.

With Stonehenge built, and history ever changing, groups of barrows have been located on hilltops, which are visible from Stonehenge.  Could it be a connection to Stonehenge for the dead?

Four Sarsen stones have been adorned with carvings of early historical weapons; axe-heads, daggers and axes.  Was it a status of power to those visiting Stonehenge, or a connection to the graves on the nearby hillsides?

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Kent’s Cavern: Pre-Historic Jawbone

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Kent’s Cavern

The limestone of the Kent’s Cavern area in Torquay, Devon was deposited at the bottom of a tropical sea, south of the equator some 385 million years ago.

Tectonic plate movement, deposited limestone in the area.  Britain had been subject to ever-changing warm and cold periods, over the last few million years, which led to cave formation, carved by moving water’s through fissures and dissolving the limestone rock.

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Stalagmites

Each warm interglacial period left behind a stalagmite floor, formed by stalagmites shattering in the intense cold of a previous cold stage.

The process of successive stalagmite formation and shattering sealed evidence of human and animal occupation in a sequence of layers in the cave floor.

The oldest skeletal human remains were uncovered in a German gravel pit near Heidelberg.  The jaw, whilst similar to Homo erectus also showed signs similar to our own.  It was estimated to be some 500,000 years old these remains are similar to bones discovered in Boxgrove, Sussex.  These early Europeans were resident in the area close to Kents Cavern and their tools were unearthed in the breccias sediment of Kents Cavern which had flowed into the cave.

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Neanderthalens

The Neander Valley:  Homo neanderthalensis are one of the most famous human species, with prominent eye ridges, large jaw teeth and dense bones.  Many tools of the Neanderthal were found in Kents Cavern and they died out some 40,000 years ago.

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Kent’s Cavern Pre-Historic Jawbone

With the upper Palaeolithic period, came the evolution of man’s next stage in development, as we have observed in Kents Cavern jawbone.  According to carbon dating carried out in 2011, it has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that the jawbone was aged between 44,200 and 41,500 years old.  Dental structure tests, determined that it is Homo Sapien, making it the earliest human fossil discovered in Britain.

Images: Wikipedia

Britain’s Early Years: Grimes Graves

Grimes Graves Flint Mine

Grimes Graves Mine

Grime’s Graves is a flint mining complex located near Brandon, between the borders of Norfolk and Suffolk.  The mine was worked between 3,000 and 1,900 BC, and consists of 433 shafts dug into the chalk to access the flint, across ninety-six acres.

Flint was used in the making of stone axes, during the Neolithic period, and was later replaced by iron.  Fortunately, the use of flint had other uses, starting fires and centuries later as strikers for muskets.

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Deer Antler Pick

One of the tools used in the excavation of flint, would be a “Deer Antler Pick” fashioned from a red deer.

These miners dug shafts some forty feet in depth, searching out the better quality flint in the subterranean galleries, which radiated outwards from the base of the shaft.

Much flint could be found close to the surface, but they opted to dig deep for the smooth black stone, better known as floor-stone.

These floor-stones were used in the construction of axes for warriors, but they were never used in battle, but buried with them.  These floor-stones were of ceremonial use.

Interesting finds have been discovered in many of these pits, leading us to suggest ritual ceremonies took place: Chalk platforms shaped to resemble that of an altar, arrangements of pottery and antler picks, close by.

Once the mines had been abandoned, possibly at the time when iron had been introduced to Britain.  The floors showed evidence of fires, being used in some form of purification ceremony.

An axe made from Cornish greenstone, had been discovered, carefully laid on a gallery floor beside two antler picks, both laying parallel and facing inwards, with the skull of a Phalarope (shorebird).

This is possibly laid out in such a way as a ritual purpose, was it about the mine or the bird, we will never know!

As the mines were backfilled, a time when flint mines had been exhausted, human and animal finds have been discovered.

Images: Wikipedia