Sunday, July 12, 2015

Improved Animals


Improved animals, when walking around a gallery sometimes you come unexpectedly on an 18th century portrait of a grotesque pig or cow,  extolling the virtues of  of their fat for eating I presume, these first illustrations show genetic engineering of which we are all aware of nowadays. Actually delving round pictures reveals that such paintings are very rare, once bought the owners keep them according to a Bonham catalogue.
Well that was not what I was going to talk about, but the strange religious practice of  of early Iron Age Durotrige people in Dorset.  Weird animal burials, where the bones of cow, horse and dog were mixed up together to produce what?  The Independent calls them 'Hybrid Animal Monster Myths'
but journalism of course does like to go down darker pathways, interesting though, wonder where all those gargoyles and strange animals on churches originated from, is there some weird religious 'meme' that somehow has to distort the real world into monsters.  


Celtic Art is becoming fashionable again though, and the British Museum is putting on a show which will move to Edinburgh next year.  But for a taste of what there is, and thanks to John Hooker (Past and Present Tensions) for this the Daily Mail has done a splendid article on it.

And now to things nearer home: We went a walk yesterday, along the fields at the back of the house, really to find out how the river behaved and if it did flood! Well it would have to rise about 15 feet to do such a thing, so unless the waters coming rushing off the moors over winter we will see.  A somewhat disappointing, dark ribbon of water hemmed in by tall weeds of nettles, policeman's helmet which had gone over and the giant 'rhubarb' leaf of gunnera.  We did see a flash of blue so kingfishers might haunt this stretch.  On the far side of the river is an embankment (bund a word I much prefer) that stretches for miles, I presume to protect the fields.
We also went to Malton Food Market, pretty place the centre of the town but the food market was disappointing, too much meat, pies and cakes.......

River Seven

Looking over the fields

The farm with the 'bund' in the front

the 'bund' stretching back

Malton food market

11 comments:

  1. If my memory serves me right the North York Moors is an area where there is little water - so you should be fine.
    So many of these so called 'food markets' are all pies and cakes. We had a farmers market here in Leyburn every fourth Saturday but it folded through lack of support because our Friday market has the most wonderful fruit and vegetable stall (Carrick's) with all kinds of produce. Pop over and see it sometime.

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    1. I think what the problem is that a few miles just above the village, there is a confluence of two rivers, according to the water board we are not on the Flood Register. Though Pickering is of course and does get flooded. Food markets are always a bit of a hit and miss affair, Bath Organic Market always used to have the centre dominated by a local grower.

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  2. Some of Keith's relations came from Malton, so we have been there a couple of times on the family history trail. A very pleasant town we thought. Carmarthen's Farmer's Market is pathetic . . .

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    1. Don't forget to come and visit us or stay of course when you are in the area, it would be lovely to see you Jennie.

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  3. I meant to add - that's fascinating stuff about the Durotriges mixed animal burials. The closest parallel I can draw is the galloping-all-ways burial of a horse at Danebury, which is buried with a dog, with skulls in juxtaposition and a foreleg of the horse placed below the off-side hock at the back. Here also a badger and a fox were deposited together, and bird bones (Ravens) were also deliberately buried with horse and dog skulls around the site. One wonders what the intent is when - at Winklebury Camp - a complete and articulated red deer was buried with twleve foxes in the same pit. (The Ritual of Ritual & Magic - Ralph Merrifield.) I wonder if using "mixed up" animals when the habitation is being "decomissioned" makes you wonder if this hybrid monster was to guard the site when people were no longer there? Tales of monsters abound to this day in some areas - indeed, we have our very own Beast of Brechfa, which is a Panther or (quite probably AND from reports I've heard) a Puma.

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    1. There is a paper on the subject, which I haven't read, but typically archaeologically written here, but it has set my mind working. https://www.academia.edu/425796/Investigating_Animal_Burials_Ritual_Mundane_and_Beyond
      Ann Ross's paper on Ritual Shaft and Wells comes to mind, and then of course there is the 'Lindow Man' with his fox armlet still adhering to his arm. Totemism of animals is perhaps how I would describe it, stretching back to Neolithic times, (Tomb of the Eagles) and followed through by the interment of cats in walls in Medieval times.

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  4. A problem with these sort of burials is that the corpses are first subjected to excarnation to obtain the bones. As this takes a long time, animals freguently mix the bones up. When the people come back to recover the bones, they do the best they can, but the bones often get mixed up. That can explain the wrong species jaw bone etc. or where bones are placed in the wrong position. Raven bones usually indicate a death through warfare; cows were sacrificed for health problems (There's a BAR volume on pits and wells where it is said that the poorer people were more likely to sacrifice a whole cow, while the elite would sacrifice just the horns and hooves -- the former seeming more desperate, the latter doing something symbolic).

    The sacrifice of the girl (if really a sacrifice) appears to me to be promoting the survival of someone's animals during some great crisis, perhaps drought or disease. If not a sacrifice, I would think more in terms of the animals providing for the farm girl in her next life.

    A more prosaic explanation for the dog burial is that the jaw bones were utilized for chewing bones for the pet dog. perhaps even a sudden inspiration. Such excarnation sites also must have served butchers as well as the bereaved. You wouldn't want to be down-wind of too many such sites!

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    1. Well given the way archaeologists seek publicity I would think there is some wishful thinking in the way they analyse information, further dramatised by over enthusiastic journalists ;) But surely the old I/A storage pits would have had a role as the place to get rid of old bones, that these 'old bones' were deliberately arranged does take some thinking about. Especially as we have 'foundational' animals being buried under new houses in the Roman era.
      Tongue in cheek, creating a cow that has the swiftness of a horse and the wings of a raven may be more the way I thought of them as 'improved animals'.... Think I like the idea of 'ritua'l but as you point out there are so many ways to interpret evidence.

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    2. The storage pits with sacrificial offerings in them, like one with a raven with its wings pinned open on the bottom of the pit, were all emptied of grain first. It seems that whoever owned the pit had died and the grain had been divided among heirs. It is also possible that a pit was abandoned if it was improperly sealed and the grain had spoiled, so an offering might also be an appeasement for the grain being spoiled. A raven sacrifice, though, would most likely have to do with war deaths.

      It would be very easy to misidentify an accidental grouping of bones at a site where there are also certain sacrifices. They do not give specific details about the girl sacrifice and I wonder if a blade mark on a bone might also be postmortem as part of some defleshing prior to excarnation. The Tibetans do this before their "sky burial" where the corpse is eaten by vultures.

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  5. Well I will start with a quote from one of my own blogs because at one time I was fascinated by sky burials and if you click the link it will take you to a gruesome description, so to anyone who has a sensitive nature do not read the link....

    "Note; There are many different burial practices in other parts of the world, and one is the Tibetan Sky burial. Now this is far to gruesome to write about but in the Buddhist faith, when a person dies his body becomes an empty shell. Tibet is a high country mountainous with great plateaus, well above the tree line so that timber is scarce. Soil is also scant on top of this mountainous region, so that burial of the dead is difficult. So the monks take the body to a high sacred ledge or ground near a chorten and get rid of the corpse through a ceremony called Jhator - 'which means giving alms to the birds'..
    Why I mention this is because there is a certain similarity between the Tibetan method and excarnation which is believed what happened in prehistoric Britain, the empty husk or shell of the body no longer housing the soul is disposed of. Which of course brings one round as to how the neolithic people may have thought of the 'inner being', was it represented in the bones of the dead, or was there another layer to their beliefs."
    http://alumnus.caltech.edu/~pamlogan/skybury.htm

    The similarity of course between sky burials and excarnation is the crow family, the bird who devours the flesh of the dead. And though these birds would have been prolific on the battle field they would be part of excarnation practice. Sacrifice of course was quite common in the Iron Age, you have only to think of the bog burials and their ritualistic 'killing' to change a particular outcome, maybe the same logic was applied to the bones of animals, or even, a child did it;) though I think that highly unlikely.

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  6. I'm reminded of the Wicker Man (Anthony Shaffer's production, not the Nicholas Cage fiasco).

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