Monday, May 7
Hey, you know what everyone likes?
Everyone likes GOLD.
I’m sexy and I know it.
Every archaeologist wants to find gold. We may say we don’t care, but this is a lie. Gold is bad ass.
But life is not an Indiana Jones movie (WHICH IS AN AWFUL FACT, I KNOW) and finding gold doesn’t really happen in most excavations. Trained archaeologists may dig their entire career and find not a hint of the shiny pretty metal.
And then some dude with a metal detector may go for a stroll in England and find a goddamn HOARD.
This dude in particular. His name is Terry Herbert.
And thus begins the story of the Staffordshire Gold.
Monday, February 27
I’m serious guys, this is really fucking important.
Archaeological sites can only be dug up once. They want to go in with metal detectors, locate ‘treasure’, bulldoze it, and sell it. If there’s an artefact there, it’s a fucking site. It needs to be dug up properly. Everything needs to be documented. Even the colour of the fucking dirt needs to be recorded. Otherwise we lose all kinds of really valuable information and in doing so, we lose a bit of our human past. Our last tiny thread of connection with the people of the past is going to be bulldozed so Spike TV can make money.
Please please please please please go sign that petition. God knows if it will actually make a difference, but at least we’ll be making some noise. The past belongs to everyone: it’s not there so a select few get some dollars in their bank account.
I know this blog hasn’t been updated in forever and I apologise.
I will come back and write tongue-in-cheek retellings of ancient history soon.
But right now, there are still a fair number of you following, and we need numbers. Spike TV is starting a series that follows a former wrestler and a salvage crew as they decimate sites for artefacts they can sell for profit.
It’s horrible. They are going to do a hell of a lot of damage.
Please please sign this petition, you guys. The archaeological world and the world in general really needs this show to not happen.
Friday, October 21
This is a long post because she is my spirit animal.
I can’t believe that Hollywood hasn’t made a pseudo-historical movie—in which all the actors speak with British accents and wear aesthetically pleasing costumes—about Eleanor of Aquitaine since The Lion in Winter.
Because Eleanor, my friends, is freaking fabulous.
Eleanor was born in 1122AD, known now as the High Middle Ages. It was the time of Robin Hood (a story that Eleanor, as mother of King John, is intricately connected to), the Crusades, mad impressive architecture, and French people.
And out of the land of said French people came William X, Duke of Aquitaine.
In the eventual movie of Eleanor’s life, I think her father William (Guillaume?) will play a significant role. William was a patron of arts and literature and music. This is pretty fab, since practically no one apart from monks read much back then.
“I cannot wait for someone to invent fanfiction.”
Eleanor was his oldest child. Born Aliénor d’Aquitaine, she must have shown a spark of intelligence young. William ensured her thorough education: she was taught not only in both forms of Old French (les langues d’oïl et les langues d’oc), Latin, the arts, and presumably politics, but also in horseback riding, hunting, and hawking.
Like a boss.
Eleanor’s mom and brother died when she was six, putting her in line to inherit Aquitaine, the biggest and most pimpin’ of France’s provinces.
When Eleanor was fifteen, her father set out on a pilgrimage from which he would never return. At fifteen freaking years old, Eleanor became one of the richest and most marriageable people in Europe.
Also the most kidnappable, because stealing an heiress meant stealing a title, back in the good old days. Her father, to protect his daughter, had arranged that upon his death, Eleanor would come under the protection of Louis VI of France—the goddamn king.
Unfortunately, Louis was far more concerned about securing the rich as balls duchy of Aquitaine for himself than he was about the grieving Eleanor. Instead of, you know, protecting her, he married her to his son and took her lands.
That was a jerk move and I’m therefore glad that history remembers you as ‘Louis the Fat’.
William died in April. Eleanor was married to Prince Louis by July. By August 1st, the king had died and Eleanor was now the Queen of France. She gave birth to a daughter some years later.
Eleanor was twenty-three when the Second Crusade began. Not one to sit idly by while the men went on jolly crusade, Eleanor got Aquitainian soldiers and her ladies, and journeyed with her husband to the Holy Land.
The Second Crusade is one of history’s most brutal disasters.
It must have been a defining moment in Eleanor’s life. She would have seen so many things she had never seen before, from life in Byzantium to fields of dead soldiers. Her husband’s failures as a military leader clearly tortured Eleanor: she was imprisoned twice by him for refusing to follow his orders.
They returned home on separate ships. During storms that divided them (wow, the metaphors apparent in that sentence), both ships went missing for two months. When eventually the king and queen found one another again, the filed for annulment with the pope.
The pope, instead, made them sleep with each other.
“You have GOT to be kidding me.”
They thus conceived their second daughter.
With no sons and that whole imprisonment thing between them, the King and Queen annulled their marriage in 1152. Eleanor was thirty. She got her lands back; Louis got her daughters.
Eight weeks later, Eleanor was married to Henry II, Duke of Normandy.
And thus begins the history of one of the most storied families ever. Welcome, dear readers, to the House of Plantagenet.
Two years later, Henry was King of England.
Henry and Eleanor fought and had affairs and incited rumours and fought some more, but over thirteen years they managed eight children. Three of her sons— Henry the Young, Richard the Lionheart, and King John—would be kings.
Eventually, though, the incessant fighting and adultery stopped being sexy and started being annoying, so when Eleanor was forty-five, she peaced to Poitiers.
According to the stories, it is here that Eleanor and her daughter Marie (from her marriage to Louis) encouraged the growth of arts, literature, music, troubadours, courtly love in a court of their own making. Compared to her early days, this would have been a quiet life for Eleanor, free of political intrigue and war.
So of course, it didn’t last.
Eleanor was fifty-one when her sons rebelled against their father. (When you’re the kid of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, you’re allowed to have a rebellious streak). For her encouragement of their revolt, Eleanor was imprisoned by Henry. She would remain imprisoned for sixteen years.
When the revolution failed and Henry the Young died, Eleanor was finally granted some freedom (though she would remain under control of a custodian). Henry died when Eleanor was sixty-six.
With his father’s death, Richard the Lionheart—Eleanor’s favourite son—ascended the throne. Among his first acts was so eradicate any remaining traces of surveillance from his mother’s life. While Richard was in France, Eleanor ruled England in his name.
“Don’t worry, guys—my mom’s got this.”
Eleanor would live to see Richard’s death and the ascension of King John to the throne. In 1201, exhausted by never-ending disputes and wars, Eleanor declared herself a nun and retreated from the public sphere. She died three years later at the age of eighty-two.
Eleanor is a woman who took control of her life and incited some serious change. She directed the course of history and created a powerhouse family (that, granted, liked to stab each other). She was contrary and moody and influential and powerful and—as we see by her reactions during the Crusade and her later retreat from public life—very, very human. This is one amazing woman.
TL;DR: Eleanor of Aquitaine was a bad ass.
So if any screenwriters want to get on making this movie, that’d be much appreciated.
Monday, October 17
Sunday, October 16
Friday, October 14
The year is anywhere from 4000BCE to 1500CE and you live in what is now Alberta.
The real reason I changed the site name was so I could talk about Canada.
Well, you don’t really live in Alberta, because a) Alberta doesn’t exist and b) you’re partially or completely nomadic. Your tribe (any one of the over thirty that have traveled through this region) follows buffalo over the plains of North America.
And how do you hunt enough buffalo to feed your clan?
In the most bad ass way possible, that’s how.
Enter: The Buffalo Jump.
In southern Alberta there’s a site known as Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.
So, like, that pretty much sums it up.
You fall, and your head gets smashed in.
When archaeologists excavated the base of these cliffs, they found smashed up buffalo bones going down for twelve goddamn meters. It was, they estimated, the result of hunting practices going back at least six thousand years.
Here’s how it worked: hunters, dressed as buffalo predators, would corral the herd together, inciting a stampede that could stretch for kilometers. This was pretty frigging dangerous. Buffalo weigh something like 2000 pounds: not something you really want to have freaking the fuck out right beside you.
The hunters would chase the herd to the cliffs, where they would be driven over the ten meter drop (that’s thirty-two feet).
It was basically like this, only they weren’t going over the cliff by choice.
The amount of game captured in these jumps would have been freaking enormous. To process all the resulting finds, encampments would be set up nearby. The clans would process every part of the buffalo. Presumably there’d be a boatload of surplus, considering how many bones were left in situ at the base of the jump.
These sites were important for more than just sustenance. The gathering of so much meat meant that more time could be focused on cultural developments like art. When you don’t have to worry about starving to death, you get to explore all other aspects of being human. This is true of every single culture in the world.
Post European contact, Head-Smashed-In stopped being used as a hunting ground. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, complete with a museum.