Tag Archives: Irish Archaeology

Trinity College Book Sale

This wonderful event is on the 4th to 6th of March this year. Imagine living close to the event – more time spent ferrying new purchases home than browsing if it was me. As it stands I will be driving there and spending short trips to the car with rucksacks full of books.
To set the scene first – Trinity is in the middle of Dublin. Its portal opens on to the mad traffic close to the Quays, O’Connell street and the north side, Dame street and pedestrians coming and going to the shops in the Grafton street area. Generally anyone can step inside the college during the daytime. When you arrive at the doors they should be open so in you go. Inside the courtyards it starts to quieten. There may be people who try to get you to join a tour – up to you. The oldest building is facing you as you come into the first open square – a redbrick building I believe is called the “Rubrics”. Bring your flask and sandwiches and walk towards the building. It lies across your path so keep to the right and you pass the “Long Room” which is the old library. You enter on the right corner of another square behind the redbrick building so keep moving along on the right side till the grounds open up – for cricket and rugby mostly – on your right. You will find ornamental cherry trees and benches close by. Have a peaceful picnic in this oasis of calm with a book – a world away from the crowds. Peace is a wonderful thing to my mind.
Anyway – the book sale. It is held every year. Any book donations to the library during the year that are judged better sold than kept will be held for the annual sale. The dates vary but it starts on a Thursday evening with an auction for the most valuable objects – letters, signed copies, rare items, etc. The open sale begins Friday in a hall on the right as you come through the main entrance. People with boxes of books mark the way. Each book has a price on it and the books are laid out on sorted subject tables. A vast number of subjects are represented and books from all ages are there. My oldest purchase was a reprinted history book from 1804 – first printed in 1794. History started in 4004 BC and moved seamlessly forward to cover Biblical, Greek and Roman events before addressing more recent happenings. I believe the reprint was to change the words using the letter F as the letter S, with the actual letter S. Most such changes happened in print around that time, I believe. Saturday is my favourite – half price morning – everything is half price. At 2.10 pm that day they will sell off the remainder by the boxload for what ever price can be achieved. Each time I fill a rucksack I run a reality check to make sure I haven’t bought too many books. Considerations include not breaking the back axle of the car with the weight of books, not financially ruining my family, not buying books I may never read, etc. Pace myself and be brutal with choices – but I still need a rucksack.
My favourite sections are History, Travel, Hobbies (I got “How to Drive a Steamtrain” there), Fiction, Archaeology, Woodworking, Bookshelves and Libraries, Gardening, Buildings and everything else I find of interest (not being flippant but saving your time with my sometimes wild magpie choices list). As you become more involved in books you will see that not everyone judges the category of a book as you do. I got a beautiful book on the archaeology of Carthage with glorious illustrations once at that sale. It was in the Archaeology section, but it turns out the text was in French. I really must remember the pacing and brutality of choice thing. Some years are better than others and you may find too much, loads, or room to include the more fringe choices – its all down to the random donations during the year. Maybe I will see you there. I am looking forward to it.

Trinity Book Sale

Trinity Book Sale

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Rescue

The photographs included here are from a small prehistoric monument on the coast of Sligo. It is classed as a Cist – pronounced “kissed”. This is generally a stone line box in the ground whose purpose seemed primarily for burial. This cist is something like 15cm wide and over 3m long so it stretches the theory. But then again Archaeology is well full of theories. Perhaps the body was hammered flat and posted in to the “grave”. Nevertheless it appears to be in possibly immanent danger of destruction and if that happens we will never know.
On a broad basis we see damage like this daily but primarily it is manmade – Bahn and Renfrews book on Archaeology in its theories, methods and practises (a very good book deserving of very good shelves) set aside a chapter on Archaeology and the Public. This chapter has a fair component of “stop breaking it and stop stealing it” type of thing. It puts the quote from Indiana Jones “It belongs in a museum” into the context of – only if we already know everything about it. Once the destruction has taken place the artefacts lose the majority of their point and after complete examination they boil down to (i) awesome or nice looking stuff, (ii) interesting and or informative stuff, (iii) shock and horror stuff and (iv) I don’t want to see it stuff.
Currently reading The Scientific Investigation of Copies, Fakes and Forgeries by Paul Craddock (along with How To Drive A Steam Locomotive by Brian Hollingsworth, but that’s another story). Wonderful book by a curator from the British Museum. From the book on fakes and forgeries – it would be far easier and cheaper to have artefacts made than running the risk of buying them at full price in the market – and there are a lot out there. I remember another book by Judith Miller on the antique trade (she of Millers Antiques Handbook and Price Guide fame) where she stated that more 18th century oak furniture left England each year than was ever made in the 18th century.
Rambling, back to disappearing monuments. I sometimes get the feeling that I need to qualify quickly and find my lost city before they are all gone – joking, somewhat. The monument in question is easier to look at fully because people are not involved – it is the environment – specifically the sea. Last year I took a photograph as it appeared close to the edge of the sea. This year after the storms I checked and it is still there though the sea stripped the land away no more then 20 feet up the coast from it. It needs a rescue so I will pass on the information. A Rescue is a dig that will remove the monument in a dig before the sea does – rescuing what is most important – knowledge of what happened in the past.

Cist in early 2013

Cist in early 2013


Cist early 2014

Cist early 2014

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Christmas

Though I did read for pleasure (Dangerous Women – a group of short stories and a reread of some of Butchers “Dresden” books) and for my exams (starting tomorrow) Christmas was about fitness as well as enjoyment and study. It was wonderfully thoughtful of our Neolithic predecessors to build their megalithic monuments a good walk away from our carparks.
The pictures are from Knocknarea mountain. When I say mountain – the carpark is half way up it. The cloud was low so the views from three quarters up it were replaced by grey ghosts of monuments. It made it interesting that the easiest thing to find at the top was the edge.
The path up to the monuments from the carpark had turned into a small stream as you can see from one of the photos. Another shows Chert which is a dark to black stone that could be broken to give a working edge – its not as smooth as flint (more of a granular texture) but it is the best available to work into tools in the locality.
A more fit body gives a sharper mind, which means more reading before falling asleep.
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Passage tomb solstice allignment

Its the winter solstice coming up on the morning of the 21st. Solstice – sun stands still. Good way of putting it as it pauses before swinging back along the horizon towards its other point in summer. People are looking to sit in passage tombs (the properly aligned ones to be fair to them) and have the sun enter at sunrise. Cant do it. Don’t have the yearning for that mystic experience. If I want to be in a bunch of people huddled together waiting for the light to come in I can take a lift. I am interested in the people who built them though. I intend to get a compass point for sunrise on the horizon and use sticks and string to trace its shadow track. Plotting orthostats, galleries, etc. will be easy to visualise after that. Walking through it may give me some insights into the building of these truly interesting megalithic monuments. Did they possibly get construction quotes or permission perhaps? Were they built with a predetermined time in mind? How many people and how long? What did it look like as it progressed? Did they include parking? How would it be built? Fun aside it is interesting and may lead somewhere.

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Looking for light in darkness, but couldn’t find the darkness

My wife and I went out to Streedagh to see if we could watch or even catch a glimpse of the predicted Aurora Borealis. It is an ephemeral vision at this low latitude, but if there is a chance who would miss it? We missed it. We went out to Streedagh because it is a north facing beach which would give a clear view if indeed it showed up. There was a light mist but the moon was making a good show through and the hope was it would clear over the sea. It didn’t and the moonlight hitting the low (very thin – we could spot stars) cloud basically set up a light screen.

So far a blog about what hasn’t happened. Onwards.

The beach was being pounded by surf – clear in the moonlight. Further along the strand the mist coming off the surf seemed to dissolve the vista beautifully. The camera could not get enough light to capture the beauty of the scene, but as our eyes adjusted everything was crystal clear. The camera couldn’t capture a shot, but I could see our shadows. Amazing. So we went for a moonlit walk on the beach. Wonderful. The thing is, the human eye takes a while to adjust fully to the darkness, so nothing looked familiar when we were walking back (the car was parked behind the dunes). Found it eventually.

Now the best bit for a random reader passing through – this was a beach where a Spaniard was washed up. From the Armada. Three ships actually beached there, but he wrote letters to his brother at a later point and these were kept safe and translated. I do like to work a book or reading bit in. Its potentially the script for a slew of movies – war, capture, escape, slavery, women chasing him, defending castles, pirates, chases and so on. He was amazingly lucky, a liar, or a bit of both – you decide. His translations can be read here – http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T108200/index.html . Its an amazing site with a vast number of ancient manuscripts translated. If you do read Captain Cuellar’s translations – no pressure, please let me know what you think of them.

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Sunrise at Listoghil

Listoghil is tomb 51 at the Carrowmore Megalithic complex. Mention in past histories list the number of monuments at 200. Now less than 50, these monuments are gathering agreement among archaeologists as the oldest stone monuments constructed on the island. I recently met a family from Texas out there as well as 4 Dutch people, wandering around on a Saturday. The place was closed so no information was available. I found this amazing and was delighted to talk about the monuments (as much as I knew). Without the little I knew they would have wandered about and not have felt an impact.

I have heard that the vast majority of the tombs are oriented, not on a sunrise, but on Listoghil. Listoghil itself has been dated as a thousand years younger than some of the other tombs. Takes a lot to figure out the facts, let alone the theories.

Lstoghil from the top edge of the reconstructed cairn

Lstoghil from the top edge of the reconstructed cairn

The original Listoghil tomb inside the new cairn

The original Listoghil tomb inside the new cairn

This should show the avenue into the reconstruced cairn.

This should show the avenue into the reconstructed cairn.

The last picture is typical. You wait for a good shot with a clear lineup and out of nowhere someone jumps in. Happens quite often. Anyway, Listoghil was a cairned monument that had suffered substantial robout (theft of stones). Someone saw fit to raise a modern cairn like structure around the monument in the noughtes. I have heard “chamber of horrors, caged animal and Disneyland archaeology”. It is up to the person who visits to judge. The avenue is along the astro alignment so the sunrise still shines into the tomb or monument. The alignment is on a cross quarter day. These are the four festival points, Beltaine, Imbolc, Samhain and Lughnasadh – February, May, August and November. Samhain was the alignment we went to – sunrise was at 7.45am. Samhain is the time of the dead – the original Halloween type of thing. It was very early and very cold. I heard one lady mention it was so early she had left Micks breakfast on page 43 of the cookbook so she could be at the monument and didn’t miss anything.

Seconds to go.

Seconds to go.

Waiting

Waiting

Steady stream gathering

Steady stream gathering

Go in or stay out?

Go in or stay out?

Cold, but good spirits

Cold, but good spirits

Guessed there was over 100 people there, just curious and eager to hear from an archaeologist who was going to talk people through it. Nothing like the drumming, candles and chanting at a previous astro event.

Sunrise

Sunrise

And sunrise…… you have to admire the building of those people all those years ago – perhaps 6/7 thousand years ago, depending who you believe or need to agree with. For me it was the people there – after all that time people still gathered for the sunrise. The group I went with were absolutely class and helped make the morning. Well would you feel a wee bit daft standing there on your own in a field with stone constructions? For me, the crowd and the sunrise was more than the science and the sunrise. Cloud rapidly covered the horizon, but it didn’t spoil it a bit. Siobhans flask of hot toddies and the craic with Rory, Alan, Siobhan and Sinead made it more memorable again.

Just a note, all pictures were taken before sunrise by my inexperienced hand. The light gather in each makes some seem brighter or darker. Siobhan kindly lent me her camera as I had left mine charging at home (so I wouldn’t run out of power). The camera was better than I was.

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