Monday, February 22, 2010

Jousting break (Oz variety)

I'm tired of rewriting and revising -- let's have a jousting break!

Thanks to all concerned in making the video. It's great!

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Two more rather odd 14th century names from the Chronicle of the Good Duke

How about: Ciquot de la Saigne and Ortingo de Ortenye?

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Monday, February 01, 2010

The Chronicle of the Good Duke and "modern times"

For some fans medieval history and some medieval reenactors in particular,the 14th century is "The One True Century." It certainly is flashy, but there are times I find it difficult to think of this period as a medieval one. Here's just one point: they had guns, and throughout the period that Froissart, (who was wildly popular as the historian of chivalry) wrote about, 1330-1400, they used them more and more routinely.

What follows is a rough translation of a passage in The Chronicle the Good Duke, written in the 15th century about events of the previous one. The ostensible hero of this book, Duke Louis of Bourbon, is taking part in an expedition to retake Normandy from the King of Navarre, Charles the Bad:

The Duke of Bourbon, the Constable and the Admiral went with their people to Gavre', the finest castle in Normandy, and they set up their siege, and opposed to them was Ferrandon, who had left Evreux, inside the castle; it happened one day that he went to check out powder for the cannons and artillery in one tower and when he was checking a candle fell on the power, which burned Ferrandon's whole face, of which he died and two others with him.
Image: a manuscript picture of a gun from 1400.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Real, odd 14th-century names

The Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval historical re-creation I have been part of for a long time -- a shockingly long time -- has as a pioneering role-playing environment, some contradictory elements. SCA culture encourages research and serious re-creation, especially in regards to artifacts; at the same time there has been a "do your own thing" ethos, right from the very beginning.

When it comes to SCA members adopting personas and names, you end up with a mishmash of fantasy and non-medieval elements, because new members tend to pick names and identities before they know much of anything about medieval naming practices. There are established members who know quite a bit about this subject, but getting new members to listen to them is not so easy. People want to do their own thing.

One of the peculiar things about the situation is that in the real Middle Ages there were large numbers of oddball names. In fact, in today's SCA you are not safe in thinking that a weird name is necessarily the result of an ignorant mistake. Maybe the bearer knows things you don't know. I've been caught making premature judgments more than once.

Today I was reading a passage from a French work of the 15th century, The Chronicle of the Good Duke, which tells the story of Duke Louis of Bourbon and his military companions over decades of the Hundred Years War. The passage concerned a period in the 14th century when Louis and his gang succeeded in keeping English and mercenary troops from riding and raiding over the French countryside. But one of the English leaders was a little more daring and he had to be hunted down. He was named "Michelet."

What is odd about that? One of the most famous French historians ever is a nationalist-romantic 19th century scholar named Jules Michelet (above) whose interpretation of the Hundred Years War is particularly famous. He was quite a storyteller on top of his tireless reading of sources and archives, so he is still influential today.

"Michelet" looks to be a diminutive of "Michel," so I guess I should not have been surprised, but I found it astonishing to have that name staring out at me from an account of the Hundred Years War.

A few lines later I found out that one of the Frenchmen who hunted down "Michelet" was named "Odin." Perhaps this name had nothing to do with the pagan god of earlier centuries, but there it was. Odd.

Someday I will have to tell you about my friend who owned Odin's bowling shirt. Until then I leave you a depiction of Odin with no bowling shirt, nor any references to the Hundred Years War.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dr. Michael Cramer's book, "Medieval Fantasy as Performance"

Readers of this blog who have a serious interest in popular historical re-enactment and re-creation, the history of roleplaying, or the SCA might be interested in this note from Michael Cramer. I've seen an earlier version of this work and it is worth your consideration.
This is the first announcement that my new book, Medieval Fantasy as Performance: The Society for Creative Anachronism and the Current Middle Ages, has gone to press and will be available beginning in January from Scarecrow Press.

The SCA is an international organization of medievalists--some academic, some romantic, and some fantastic--who act out their fantasies by adopting medieval persona and interacting with one another at tournaments, wars, feasts, and other festivals, as well as numerous workshops and seminars. Much more than a Live Action Role Playing Game, the SCA is a community of like minded individuals, a group of nearly 100,000 Don Quixotes playing a communal game of make believe. Through the prism of performance studies this book seeks to examine why and how the SCA performs its medieval fantasy, and comes to the conclusion that what the SCA has created, and for more or less the same reasons, is an accidental reconstruction of the medieval King Game.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Charles Babbage's Difference Engine

I am fascinated by early 19th-century technological breakthroughs, so I was really pleased to be referred to this NPR piece on the Babbage Difference Engine, which includes audio, text, photo slideshow, and video.

Here's an excerpt:
Charles Babbage, the man whom many consider to be the father of modern computing, never got to complete any of his life's work. The Victorian gentleman was a brilliant mathematician, but he wasn't very good at politics and fundraising, so he never got the financial backing to finish any of his elaborate machine designs. For decades, even his fans weren't certain whether his computing machines would have worked.

But Doron Swade, a former curator at the Science Museum in London, has proven that Babbage wasn't just an eccentric dreamer. Using nothing but materials that would have been available to Babbage in the 1840s, Swade and a group of engineers successfully built Babbage's Difference Engine — and a version is now on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

The Difference Engine fills half a gallery and stands taller than most men. It's 5 tons of cast iron, steel and bronze woven together from 8,000 distinct parts. Though it looks like it could be a sculpture, the machine is essentially a giant calculator. Tim Robinson, a docent at the museum, says it's "the first automatic calculating machine."

This engine — made from 162-year-old designs — doesn't have a power pack; it has a hand crank. Robinson works up a sweat as he turns it. "As long as you keep turning that crank, it will produce entirely new results," he says.

Most importantly, the machine produces accurate results. In Babbage's time, England reigned over a vast global empire. To navigate the seas, captains used books filled with calculations — but these equations were all done by fallible human minds.

"If the tables had an error," Robinson says, "a ship could either get lost or run aground, so lives and property were thought to be at stake."

The story goes that Babbage was inspired to create the Difference Engine one day when he came across multiple errors in a book of astronomical calculations. "I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam!" he exclaimed.

Of course, this episode inspired one of the first steampunk novels.

P.s. It was designed to have a printer! And has one now!

Image: Wikipedia picture of the American exemplar.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Re-creation and the Olympic torch -- from The Big Picture

Top: Priestesses at Olympia light the torch.
Then: Vikings keep it burning at L'Anse aux Meadows.

Too cool.

More here.
Or click on the pics.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

The Pennsic War, July-August 2009

A while back Will McLean posted a video on the most recent Pennsic War. It rather got overshadowed by the Staffordshire Hoard, but now I will embed the video, a classy job by Voice of America. (No, I'm not in it.)

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Historical re-creation, up close and personal

From a recent joust in Ontario. Click the pic for an even closer impression.

Thanks to Kyle Andrews.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Historic Ordnance seminar, 2009

Explosives and incendiary devices from medieval recipes, as tested at the Medieval Centre in Denmark. Could be called "Boys with their Toys, Medieval Scholar Edition," if I was one to talk, that is.

Thanks to Kelly DeVries for posting this.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I spent two weeks at the SCA's Pennsic War 38 near Pittsburgh. Due to scheduling conflicts I did not participate in the Passage of the Beautiful Pilgrim (see below), nor see the first Pennsic re-enactment of the Combat of Thirty against Thirty to actually include 60 participants.

Fortunately, Will McLean has provided links to photos and videos of each. Here is a video shot by Brad Hrboska and produced by Andrew Lowry:

The laughter on the soundtrack is probably a re-creation of the Breton peasants laughing at the sight of 100-Years-War men at arms killing each other instead of harassing or killing them.

As a witness of and participant in many SCA combats, I was impressed by how the modified rules produced a more prolonged re-creation, rather than the very quick ones that standard SCA rules usually do.

My participation this time was restricted to the mass battles:

Eccentric medieval historian relaxes between battles:

Don't cross this guy!

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Meet me at the Pas of the Beautiful Pilgrim

I will not be blogging for the next couple of weeks. If you are going to the SCA's Pennsic War, drop by this event and say hello to the Duke of Burgundy:

A Recreation of the Pas de la Belle Pelerine

To be held at Pennsic in the Green List, August 3rd, 2009 from 2-5 PM, hosted by the Company of S. Michael

The servants of the Belle Pelerine will hold a passage of arms, meeting all comers in single combat for a push or throw with lance or spear followed by an agreed number of blows with axe or sword. If the comer touches the shield of Lancelot, if either champion falls or is unable to continue they will give a brooch, gem or jewel of whatever value they wish to their opponent's lady. If they touch the shield of Palamedes they are not so bound. Weapons will be provided if needed. Also, there will be group combats with rebated weapons as often and as long as the ladies wish.

The Letter of the Belle Pelerine (the Beautiful Pilgrim)

Summary: a knight rescues a lady beset by brigands. She is on pilgrimage but fears to continue without escort. The knight offers to accompany her, but must acquit himself of a deed of arms first. The beautiful pilgrim asks for valiant knights and others of martial prowess to challenge her rescuer so that he may be freed to protect her on her pious journey.

To all excellent, high and powerful princes and princesses, barons, lords, ladies and gentle knights, who, in their grace, come to read these letters, my recommendations and kind greetings. I, who am called by many the Belle Pelerine, had occasion to become informed of high festivals in the city of Rome. I made preparations to take the road to go there. Because of my weakness, and because I was scarcely accustomed to endure great pains, I went forward by short journeys, doing my devotions at those holy places that could be found on my route. As I made my way in this manner fortune lead me near the sea, near the borders of a high and nearly impenetrable forest, within which pillagers and robbers of the sea were lying in wait, and they came with wild ferocity against me and my companions.

And I certainly believe that we all would have been slain or taken prisoner had it not happened that a knight riding nearby heard the noise and came hastily against the robbers, and by his free generosity delivered me and my company from their hands. And sorely tried by the affray, I fell to the ground as though struck down.

Then the knight lifted me up and took me sweetly in his arms, saying “My dear lady, you have nothing to fear. Take heart and be comforted, by God’s mercy you have been delivered from your enemies. If it please you I will lead you to a good town and a secure place nearby”.

And when he had said this, and I had recovered myself a little and was able to speak I thanked him from my heart for the great courtesy and kindness he had done me.

And I began to think seriously about the peril and danger I was in, considering the way I had yet to go was long, narrow and perilous, and equally that to return to my country with my pilgrimage uncompleted would be grievous and very displeasing. Weeping, I said sir knight, today I am the most troubled gentlewoman in the world, and I don’t know what to do”

And when he heard that he sweetly told me that if he could offer me any counsel, or do anything that the body of a knight could honorably accomplish, he would spare nothing to do it. When I heard him speak so freely and make such graceful offers I disclosed my affairs to him, and how I had come from my country to do pilgrimage, and how I still had a long way to go on a perilous road, and saw the great peril and danger in returning to my country, and how I had no certain safe conduct. I hoped he could supply that, for the love of God and for the pity that all gentle knights ought to have for ladies in distress. And by his courtesy to escort and guide me during my pilgrimage, which as I have said I had great devotion to perform.

The knight thought a bit and he answered “My dear lady I have no wish to refuse you but there is something I must do first and that done, if it please God I will not fail you. I would be shamed and dishonored if I failed to go the whole way with you, guarding and defending you against anything that might occur. My dear lady, I must warn you that in truth I have undertaken a vow, by my faith, which I may not put aside, for first I must accomplish a deed of arms. This is to guard a passage near the tower of Beau-Jardin on the road between Calais and St. Omer in Picardy in the diocese of Thereimance, which was once called the place of Beau-Jardin and is now called the Green List. Which passage I have the intention to guard and will guard if it please God on the Monday the third of August from two by the clock until five, to deliver all gentlemen and knights come of a noble line of a deed of arms declared in certain chapters which shall follow. And, my very dear lady, if it is your pleasure to rest in this country after the travail which you have suffered, I will be ready, once my enterprise is accomplished, to undertake to lead and conduct you wherever you wish and do you all the honor that I may, as I wish to do what pleases you well.”

And at that, when I had heard the sweet words of that knight and thought of the great danger that I had been in. And how, if I had no good safe conduct, I could not avoid great danger. And I, considering that the response of that knight was courteous and his offers gracious I thanked him humbly and remained at his convenience.

And so, very excellent, very high and very powerful princes and princesses, barons, lords, ladies, and gentle knights, I the aforesaid pilgrim am now in a strange country in great trouble and displeasure and greatly wishing to do my pilgrimage. And I will not be able to do without the aid of that knight who has undertaken to lead me on my voyage unless he is able to accomplish his deed of arms.

And so I address myself to your good grace and beg you in all humility as a gentle woman who is in perplexity, and can do nothing without your nobility and franchise. In kindness to the ladies may it please you to give leave and license, and what is more, encouragement to the noble knights of your courts, countries and lordships, by their courtesy, to shorten my voyage by delivering that knight of his enterprise of arms, according to the chapters which will follow.

And also to you, valiant knights, I sweetly beg, for the honor of your ladies, that it please you to do so, and in doing this you will win honor and true renown. And you will always be held in prayers to God and I will pass on your good renown and that of all knights who wish to take pains to acquire it, and I will make known their noble and valiant courage and the love and honor which they bear for their ladies. And that knight requires and also will assure you that nothing will be done in this enterprise out of hate, envy or ill will for anyone and hopes that no one would think the contrary. But instead this is done to occupy themselves and to assay the noble estate of chivalry. The deed will also be done to have the acquaintance and knowledge of good and valiant knights from foreign lands in hopes to know better their valor.

And at present the knights does not wish to be named. but to put aside any doubt or questions that he is unable to perform such occasion I certify in truth that he is drawn of a noble line and of a powerful house and without villainous reproach and that he will be found in this place arrayed on the day declared in the chapters to do and accomplish that said enterprise if it please God. And finally I pray to the high and powerful prince the count d’Estamps that by his good grace it will please him to put the seal of his arms on these present letters and on the chapters of the said enterprise of arms which I shall further declare.

Chapters of the enterprise of arms of the knight who has undertaken to escort the noble lady who they call the Beautiful Pilgrim

First, the said knight, by the good will, leave and license of the very high, very powerful prince and his very redoubted master, my lord the duke of Burgundy, Brabant and Lembourg, will be present in person, the third day of August, in a passage or place near the tower of Beau-Jardin, on the road between Calais and Saint-Omer, in Picardy in the diocese of Teruanne, once called the Tower of Beau-Jardin and now called the Green List. And with God’s help he will guard that passage or place from the hour of two by the clock until five. And by that place will be hung a shield, argent with three bends gules, signifying the shield that was born in his time by the valiant knight Lancelot of the Lake, who was loyal and happy in arms. And near that shield will be a pollaxe and a sword, and a horn such as huntsmen are accustomed to carry in the chase.

Item: and near that shield will be another of checky sable and argent with two Saracens’ swords crossed gules which are the arms of the good knight Palamedes who always sought in his time to acquire a lady bearing arms and searching for adventures and near that shield there will be a pollaxe and a sword.

Item : Near that the said knight will have a pavilion set up where there will be at that time a king of arms or herald accompanied by pursuivants of arms who will do their office in the way afterwards declared.

Item: to better declare the present enterprise of arms of the said knight his intention is that all knights, gentlemen of names arms without villainous reproach who have the desire and wish to do arms, except for the subjects and servants of my lord of Burgundy if it is their good pleasure to touch one of the two shields that is to say the white shield with the three bends gules and the axe or sword or both or the shield checky of argent and sable and the axe or sword or both they will be held to furnish to the knight of the pilgrim the arms which will be afterwards declared and they will not be able to accomplish them in one or the other manner if they have not first touched one of the two shields aforesaid.

Item: to put aside the doubts of those knights coming from distant countries that they might not be satisfied in their enterprise if there is a great number of knights who have touched one of the two shields, the one who has touched first will have first place in the arms and consequently the others according to the order in which they have touched the shields according to the report of the king of arms and herald which will put down in writing the name of the knight and when he has touched the shield.

Item: so that the comers need not fear that a solitary knight might be vanquished or prevented by unforseen difficulties from satisfying them before they can accomplish their enterprise, the knight of the enterprise will be accompanied by certain companions calling themselves pilgrims arrayed and prepared to defend the passage.

Item: and if there is any knight of the condition aforesaid desiring to do arms and to accomplish the enterprise and adventure and wishes to touch one of the shields on the day of the Passage of Arms he may come to the place and sound the horn between the hours of two and five by the clock at which sound there will come the king of arms or herald who will demand the name of the knight and the time at which he has come and afterwards he will say “Very noble knight, I and my companion are ordered by my master who has undertaken the escort of the Belle Dame Pelerine who God give honor and joy, to warn and inform you and other noble knights of what they must do if they touch the shields of the enterprise which you see here.”

“In truth no knight may be received to do the arms which pertain to the shield argent with bends gules if he does not have a lady or demoiselle in love who by her grace has retained him as a servant.”

“However, any other knights may undertake and accomplish the arms that pertain to the shield checky argent and sable.”

Item: no lord or knight may perform the arms pertaining to both shields, but must choose one or the other.

Item: and if a knight has sounded a horn and touched the axe he will be held to encounter the knight of the dame pelerine for the following arms: to meet on foot for a throw or push of the lance, whichever better pleases the knight of the dame pelerine and following that to fight with a pollaxe until xvii strokes are struck and set on by one of the two knights. And the said knight of the Dame Pelerine shall provide the lances and axes to do this, both alike, of which the foreign knight will have his choice.

Item: If it happens, which God forbid that either of the knights doing these arms is carried to earth, touching it with hand or knee, or is disarmed or otherwise unable to continue, before the number of strokes is performed in that case the arms will be held to be accomplished and another knight will be allowed to commence his deed if it please him.

Item: And if he touches the sword he will be bound to do the arms which follows; which is to say to come together on foot for a throw of the lance such as the knight of the Beautiful Pilgrim will give and will bear to that place, two alike, of which the foreign knight will take his choice. And after that throw they will fight with the sword, of which the knight of the enterprise will also provide two alike, so that xix strokes are done and accomplished and if either in fighting is carried to earth or disarmed or otherwise unable to continue the arms will be held to have been accomplished as aforesaid.

Item, any champion who has undertaken the arms of Lancelot’s shield and is carried to earth or otherwise unable to continue will be bound to give to his opponent to give to his lady a brooch, ring, jewel or gem.

Item: In fighting neither of the knights may lay hands on the other but only fight with weapons under pain of being blamed and dishonored.

Item: If there are any princes dukes or counts or their children who are not yet knights that would be pleased to come and give succor to the said dame pelerine for the honor of their ladies in consideration of the high lineage and they will be received as though they were knights. And further, any other gentlemen without reproach who are not yet knights but who please the ladies by their nobility and high resolve shall be likewise accepted to perform their enterprise.

Item, there will be in that place certain ladies willing to accept noble knights and gentlemen as their servant who wish to undertake the shield of Lancelot. And further, if there is a champion that is unable to provide the token required if they are unable to complete the arms of the shield of Lancelot, the ladies of their grace will provide it.

Item: If there are any knights squires or gentlemen besides those which have touched one of the two shields or who have completed their enterprise, who would have the pleasure of exercising themselves in arms, they will find in that place during that time a certain number of gentlemen who will be equipped to furnish those who wish and require for the love of their lady group combat in the field or across the barrier, with rebated weapons of six feet in length or less. And these combats will occur as often and for as long as it please the ladies.

Item: there shall be a rich prize provided for the champion that shows the greatest prowess, and for the one that makes the bravest, noblest and most courteous entry upon the field.

Item: If there is any difficulty doubt or obscurity concerning the content of the present chapters of the said enterprise of arms, the aforesaid knight who has undertaken the escort of the dame pelerine retains the right to interpret and clarify the same.

And at the humble and instant supplications of my pilgrim aforesaid, the very excellent and very powerful prince my lord the duke of Burgundy and of Brabant and my very redoubted lord has been declared to be the judge of these arms and the performance of the said enterprise and of his grace and goodness he has taken the charge of holding the place secure as well as all other duties pertain to a judge.

And if it happens because of the high and great affairs of my lord duke he is not able to be present in person he has declared that it shall be done as aforesaid and promised by the high and powerful prince the count of Charolais his son, or by any of my lords his nephews.

And we, John of Burgundy, count d’Estamps and lord of Dourdan at the request of the noble and honored lady the Beautiful Pilgrim, to honor all ladies and to give greater certainty to all the things written above, and likewise that no one may doubt that the knight that has undertaken to escort that beautiful pilgrim will be able to perform his duty in the present enterprise, if it please God to defend against any encumbrance or lawful bodily injury, we have affixed the seal of our arms this day, July the IVth in the year of grace MMIX.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Foteviken open air Viking Museum

Randy and Ann Asplund have been visiting southern Sweden, including this open air museum in Foteviken. They took some great pictures!

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Beowulf: Prince of the Geats, Nazis, and Odinists

Richard Scott Nokes' article on an unexpected set of reactions to the casting of a black actor as Beowulf in Beowulf: Prince of the Geats is now available on line.
It is a journalist's cliche that only weird English profs (and not all of them) care about Beowulf; and they masochistically inflict it on their defenseless students. The flood of Beowulf material in recent years, in movies and elsewhere, blows that throw-away out of the water.

Thanks to Modern Medieval for the heads-up.

Image: Jayshan Jackson as Beowulf.

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques, by William R. Short

A personal recommendation by Jeff Sypeck at Quid Plura. I haven't heard any reaction from re-creators or re-enactors yet.

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Iron-making in Wareham, Ontario, May 30

Thursday, May 14, 2009

More beauty in iron

Beauty in iron

Long ago, when various young nuts and idealists were forming the SCA and a variety of other medieval re-creation organizations, starting with just about no real knowledge of material culture, we often read about the tremendous achievements of ancient artisans. One of which was the pattern-welded sword. Thus I was thrilled and impressed when Darrell Markewitz posted the above picture and a link to the originating website on his blog. The artist in question is Jake Powning.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Ulfberht swords

Darrell Markewitz over at Hammered Out Bits tells the story that I never heard before -- about the most well-known Frankish metalworking establishment and the swords that it produced over the generations:

One of the oddities of history is that we know the name of a single swordmaker, most likely living near modern day Solingen on the Middle Rhine, in the mid 800's. These excellent quality blades are inlaid with that maker's name, with the earliest found dated to about 850. There are a huge number known with deposit dates spanning more that one mans life time (the latest is deposited about 1100). The raw number of surviving samples and the spread of dates suggests production in a 'workshop' spanning several generations... Ulfberht swords all have that makers name inlaid into the blade.

But that's not all...see what Darrell was inspired to do next. It's a serious re-enacter's treat.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Battle in Bloomington, Illinois

As some of you know, I've been involved in medieval re-creation for a long time, primarily through the SCA, one of the largest and oldest such groups. In recent years, when I've been less active and living in a rural/small city environment, I've heard friends complain about the SCA (which has become a rather expensive and elaborate hobby) losing potential recruits to analogous activities like WoW and boffer groups. But I really haven't seen any of the latter.

This weekend I stumbled across this video at the newssite and it was a revelation. I had no idea there were so many people involved in stripped-down, easy-participation, cheap, low-impact "medieval combat." Or that had it had been going on in an organized fashion for so long. (Here's the same yearly event for 2007 and 2008 videoed by the sponsoring group.)

Also, it was a bit like a trip back in time to my early days in the SCA, when our gear and level of "re-creation" was not much better than what you see in the video (though most of us moved beyond this level pretty darned fast, and we always had more than fighting in our activities). And what the Warlord of Belegarth said in the news video sounded awfully familiar in places. It was a bit spooky.

This is where the young and broke go for their fun now!

I hope that some of the people who love to sneer at SCA eclecticism and uneven quality have a look at this!


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A champion historical re-enactment

Duplicating the reported ancient Phoenician circumnavigation of Africa! Complete with months-long delays!

A really good article at

I am truly impressed.

Image: the ship, Phoenicia.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Stonehenge: No one who wasn't there can imagine what that music was like

But we can reconstruct and dream, can't we?

The Mail reports an acoustic-archaeological experiment:

Part-time DJ Dr Till, an expert in acoustics and music technology at Huddersfield University, believes the standing stones of Stonehenge had the ideal acoustics to amplify a 'repetitive trance rhythm' not dissimilar to some kinds of modern trance music.

Stonehenge would have had strange acoustic effects thousands of years ago

The original Stonehenge probably had a 'very pleasant, almost concert-like acoustic' that our ancestors slowly perfected over many generations. Because Stonehenge itself is partially collapsed, Dr Till, used a computer model to conduct experiments in sound.

The most exciting discoveries came when he and colleague Dr Bruno Fazenda visited a full-size concrete replica of Stonehenge, which was built as a war memorial by American road builder Sam Hill at Maryhill in Washington state.

He said: 'We were able to get some interesting results when we visited the replica by using computer-based acoustic analysis software, a 3D soundfield microphone, a dodecahedronic (12-faced) speaker, and a huge bass speaker.

'We have also been able to reproduce the sound of someone speaking or clapping in Stonehenge 5,000 years ago.

'The most interesting thing is we managed to get the whole space (at Maryhill) to resonate, almost like a wine glass will ring if you run a finger round it.

'While that was happening a simple drum beat sounded incredibly dramatic. The space had real character; it felt that we had gone somewhere special.'

Read the rest.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

The difference between Accumulated Knowledge and Science

Darrell Markewitz at Hammered Out Bits reflects on the legendry of blacksmithing.

Image: Jack Kearney's studio at the Contemporary Art Workshop.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Prehistoric burial mounds in southern Sweden

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Need something to read?

Been abandoned by your regular bloggers?

I've saved up two posts I liked just for this occasion.

The first is Karl Steel posting his final exam for an undergraduate course in medieval romance literature. I am fascinated by the format and wonder if I should revisit what I habitually do. My students, past and present, are welcome to chime in on this issue.

Then there is a "material culture" contribution from Darrell Markewitz on "How widespread were blacksmithing skills in the Viking Age?" Lots of fun in the grubby details.

Image: "Viking Smith," a photo by Wolfgang Arnold.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Pining for Jerusalem?

From Jennifer Lynn Jordan:

I recently stumbled upon a really neat blog called Renbaudus. Renbaudus of Bernay is a Norman knight working as a legate for the abbot of Cluny, and Jean Philippe is video-blogging and documenting his journey to the Holy Land. There's a ton of interesting content, including a call to participate in the video-blog. Check it out!

I think the best place to meet Renbaudus is here. It's really just started. If you are interested in following the story or even participating, you can get on to it practically on the ground floor

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Exploring the Viking Age in Denmark

Darrell Markewitz, ironmonger and Iron Age re-enactor extraordinaire, made a research trip to Denmark in Spring 2008. Now he has packaged hundreds of pictures of sites, museums, and artifacts on a jewelcased DVD, which also includes his extensive commentaries. It is available here now!

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Viking-era celebrations might have looked like this

But this is actually the 2008 Up Helly Aa celebration in Shetland, an annual celebration vikingized in 1878.

This is one picture from installment one of the Big Picture's "best of 2008" collection. Here is an astonishing Aussie contribution that has nothing to do with war or natural disaster.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Holy Land Experience in Florida

Jennifer Lynn Jordan alerts all of us who are desperate to see a "John Wycliffe Robotic." And that's the least of it.


Monday, November 24, 2008

For your holiday gift lists

Will McLean, re-enactor extraordinaire, wrote a guide to Daily Life in Chaucer's England a decade or so ago; I liked it and once used it as a text for a course on 14th century England. Now, not quite in time for Christmas (but perhaps before New Year's) the second edition is coming out. Bigger, better, and with a snappier cover.

Also maybe in time for Christmas, Darrell Markewitz, blacksmith and ironmonger, is putting out a DVD on his research trip to Denmark earlier this year. The DVD is being put together in connection with a talk he is giving at the Peterborough, Ontario SCA meeting of November 26 (Traill College, 8 pm). To get an idea of what will be included in the DVD and whether you would be interested, have a look at this post on Darrell's all-historical-ironwork-all-the-time site, Hammered Out Bits.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Recreating the Middle Ages on the road to Compostella

In my class on Crusade and Jihad, we were talking about pilgrimages just today, and the difficulties associated with them came up. But I wasn't thinking about this!

This probably is relevant to the Chivalry seminar, too...

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Grave goods

Darrell Markewitz, author of the Iron Age ironmaking blog Hammered Out Bits, has contributed to a museum show called Grave Goods at the Woodstock Museum in Woodstock, Ontario. The show, open since Friday, will continue until November 1. For links to more details go here.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Viking-era glass bead making

Here is a detailed discussion of one of the activities at the SCA event at my property this past weekend.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

The problems of really serious historical reenactment

Darrell Markewitz was involved in the design of the Viking living history site at L'Anse aux Meadows, and now he hears news that they are trying some ambitious projects there. I am sure he is intrigued, but the most interesting thing about this blog post is his fear that the site is tackling more than it can handle.

Darrell will be on my property on Labor Day weekend taking part in an SCA re-creation event. Last I heard there will be on-site glass bead making. If you come, come dressed in medieval fashion, as best you can do.

Image: see the post.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Pennsic War

During my recent vacation I attended, as I usually do, the SCA's Pennsic War. The Society for Creative Anachronism or SCA is a very large medieval re-creation group -- not a reenactment group because it does not reenact specific events of the Middle Ages, but has created its own Middle Ages for fun. The Pennsic War to give an example is fought between two SCA kingdoms, the Middle Kingdom and the East Kingdom, and their allies, none of which you will find on a map of Europe in any era. Wrapped around this war, which is by far the largest SCA event on the calendar, are a large number of organized and spontaneous activities, martial, educational, and artistic -- not to mention the parties and the various efforts to survive in what is essentially a tent city of 10,000 people or more.

I could go on for a long time trying to convey the Pennsic experience, but I will restrict my remarks to a few. First, reenactment. If neither Pennsic nor the SCA are primarily meant as reenactments, a fact that earns them scorn from many people who are aiming at reenactment, there are moments of reenactment nonetheless. At this Pennsic war I was able to witness attempts to re-create or reenact, with differing levels of accuracy, to deeds of arms of the 14th century which I have written about in scholarly venues, the Combat of the 30 against 30 that took place in Brittany in 1351, and the deeds of arms at Vannes, also in Brittany, of 1381. (The image above shows a few of the French 30 preparing for the combat.) Though one could easily stand back and list deficiencies in these reenactments, I found them enjoyable and even educational. (Here's my kvetch: Armor fans will note in the image above that the participants in this annual event tend to favor late- rather than mid-14th century armor. And many of them seem to be armored like princes instead of mercenary scum.)

More interesting even than the recreations and reenactments of the Middle Ages is the is a freewheeling modern-medievalist (?) culture of Pennsic. Two small examples will give an impression, I hope.

The first is the Pennsic rune stone. Long ago (1981), some SCA members from the American Midwest tried to express what the martial competitions at Pennsic, which are vigorous and sometimes painful but seldom really dangerous, meant to them. They did it in mock- Viking style by erecting stone monument. It is pictured above. The inscription, which I offer without comment, says:

In memory of Pennsic X.
In war we test our honor, courage and strength.
Let no man strike in anger.
Let no man lie in pain.

The work was done by Lars the Fierce, now a professional potter, who still attends Pennsic.

My second example is newer than the rune stone: it is a Turkish-style coffeehouse called Your Inner Vagabond, which is dedicated to the pleasures that can be achieved with such legal stimulants as coffee, sugar, chocolate, and all the spices of the silk road. Not to mention occasional music and dance. The IV, as the worst addicts call it, has been such a success that it now has a permanent location in Pittsburgh, about an hour from Pennsic site. The on-site location is now considerably bigger than shown in the picture above, which is two years old.

Usually my time at Pennsic is entirely devoted to nonliterate pursuits. I tend to avoid the printed page, and I entirely avoid the glowing screen. But this year I did something I've never done at Pennsic before: I wrote a lecture (on the Second Crusade). And I did it while sitting in the Inner Vagabond and sampling its wares. It was pure pleasure.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Iron age technology on the web

Darrell Markewitz has been experimenting with Iron Age technology for at least 30 years now. I've covered some of this projects here and it occurred to me recently that I should point my readers to his blog, Hammered Out Bits. it's a real "log" of projects in process and ideas and problems that come up during those projects. I am sure, for instance, that some of you will be interested in hearing what he has to say about working meteoric iron. If you really get interested, don't stop at Hammered Out Bits, but go on to the Wareham Forge site.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Re-enacting medieval cavalry -- Henrik Olsgaard reports

Henrik Olsgaard is one of the founders of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and has always been one of the class acts of that group. Armor I saw him wear in 1975 -- which he made himself -- would be top drawer in any re-enactment group today.

Henrik has been to the Battle of Hastings re-enactment twice, and was depicting a Norman cavalryman both times. In a recent private conversation he described some of his experiences, and he has kindly allowed me to reproduce much of that material here.

Henrik makes no great claims to historical insight into the use and effectiveness of cavalry in the Middle Ages, as you will see below, but at least he's given re-enactment a try and speaks clearly and sensibly about his own experience. The role and importance of cavalry in the High Middle Ages, once considered unambiguously the "age of cavalry," is a very controversial subject among professional military historians, and discussions of the issue often lead to broad generalizations. I have no idea how many such historians have much experience of riding, or riding in difficult conditions where horses must face ferocious human beings waving sticks at them. Henrik has at least done that.

The following account has been lightly edited by me, and arranged in what seemed to me the best order. Any awkwardness results from the fact that you are reading only one part of a conversation that included a number of other people.

Tracking down YouTube videos of Hastings re-enactments is left as an exercise for the reader.

Image: The 2006 re-enactment, from a gallery of pictures taken by Jonathan Krarup.


-Horses are herd animals that group together and follow the leader - especially in frightenng circumstances. But once frightened out of their gourd, they are virtually uncontrollable and will usually run in whatever direction they are pointed in, till they fall or are convinced they are safe- which usually is after they are exhausted. Stallions also are more aggressive and will fight if not frightened, by the circumstances they are in. Training can help them learn what to expect and convince them not to be frightened most of the time. Mares are normally less aggressive and so more controllable, yet they still can be aggressive if trained to be so. Yet either gender will be out
of control if in flight mode. Since they are big and strong, their panic can be very destructive if they are using all their strength to "get away".

The severe bits and spurs that were used at some periods, by some horsemen ( prick spurs with sharp points 3 or 4 inches long with disc stops to prevent deeper penetration into the horse's side, or bit arms that were 12 inches long to provide extra hard pressure when the reins
were pulled, making breaking of the lower jaw an easy possibility, for instance) show the amount of effort it sometimes took to "get the horse's attention" when it was in panic mode.

Usually a horse will not run into obstructions or over unusual looking ground - painted bars on a flat pavement, for instance, is very good at stopping a horse from walking on it. They have to be trained to do so. Polo ponys are trained to run into things, like other horses, during the game of Polo, and the horse used to hit the shieldwall at Hastings was a polo pony, the owner said.

I believe horses need a lot of training to actually run into a formation and once injured in the process, will likely avoid it in the future. Moving up to within sword or spear length, however is likely a better possibility that most horses will do with a little amount of training. A long spear can allow the rider to strike with the force of the moving horse, before it stops at the point of contact and if running parallel to a formation's face, allows the rider to reach laterally with his lance and strike with the movement of the horse added to this own. Of course use of guns from horseback allows rapid movement to within range, discharge and then rapid movement out of
range to reload, etc.

The main advantage I've found at Hastings, of poorly trained horses is they provide rapid transportation all over the battlefield and radically reduce fatigue on the part of the armored warrior in the process. They also provide an elevated platform from which to wield any weapon and provide major assistance in entering or exiting a combat engagement at high speed, if desired. The elevated position allows the warrior to see better where to focus his attention or enter or exit combat, to his advantage. It also allows him to be more visible to his companions for whatever advantage it can provide - be it directing their movement or offering support or scaring their foes. Lastly it provides assistance in negotiating the circumstances of battle by helping when the rider is injured or weak from exhaustion, so he can retreat or continue , in spite of his condition.

At Hastings 2006 I saw one of my cavalry companions charge the Saxon shield wall on his well trained horse and it hit full force at a gallop with its chin way in the air so its chest slammed into the shield and knocked over several people, who were quite surprised and pissed off that it happened. The rider told me later he thought he had the go-ahead from the line of Saxons, to charge it, and he'd worked hard to train his horse to charge a shield wall, well before the reenactment. It was a joy to see, but not to experience being hit. A couple of the downed Saxons got bloodied by it, I was told.


Another thing I saw that weekend was a German rider - he had a big white beard and was riding a white horse and can be seen in many U-tube video clips- went down with his horse in a big cartwheeling somersault as they galloped downhill after assaulting the shieldwall. I was going slower when I saw him go down and after looking forward to be sure my horse wasn't going to trip I looked back at them and they were both on their feet standing next to each other again. Still pictures and video clips show them riding again a few minutes later, but none that I've seen show them falling or getting back up. An eyewitness from the Netherlands,who was watching from downhill said the rider's kite shield - which was tied close to his body with the enarms and guige straps, kept the high saddle pommel from crushing the rider as the horse rolled over him on the ground. I corresponded with a friend of the rider, who was riding there too and he said both the rider and horse were unhurt and fine afterward. That was amazing to see and especially that no one was hurt. I wish there were some video or still pictures of it. But in both cases, the shieldwall charge and the falling horse and rider, they happened to the west side of the battlefield and were well away from the spectators who were to the east side and there were lots of warriors and horses in the way, in between, blocking most people's view and camera angles. Any hidden cameras that the reenactors snuck/sneeked (?) onto the battlefield were usually not pointed at the horses so most action is lost to them and the few other cameras spread around to the north or south just seem to have missed those two pieces of the action.


Most ( 60 +/-) of the 90 or so horses at Hastings 2006 were rented from various stables for those of us who didn't own our own, there. The remainng 30 or so horses were privately owned and had a great variety of training and experience. The German rider on the white horse was part of a group of Germans who all rode together in Conroy number three ( of five Conrois that year) Most of the horses in that group were white and one was dalmatian dog spotted. They usually performed in 12th century reenactments and wore full mail to cover feet and hands.

In the case of the horse that charged the shieldwall, the owner said he trained his horse to do that manouver. You'll have to ask him why, but I presume because he thought it would be useful and fun. None of the other horses did that and in fact most never got even within spear length of the shieldwall since they were nearly all intimidated by a shouting and clamoring confrontation of scary looking "animals", that to prey animals ( the horses) looked like they would bite them in
half. Most of the rental horses had never seen such a thing before and didn't know what to make of it and certainly didn't want to approach within touching distance except with a lot of urging on the rider's part. I know my horse refused to get close unless another horse went first and showed the way. It was rather frustrating and this is the same thing the other two horses that I rode in 2000 at Hastings did as well. There, however my Conroi leader rode ahead and charged along the shieldwall so we all followed and galloped along the face and stabbed with our spears over the top at the Saxons behind it. In 2006 , my Conroi leader didn't ride up to the wall, but hung back urging us to go on and attack. Perhaps he couldn't get his horse to get close and lead the way, either. In any case our conroi didn't make much contact with the shield wall, but once some of the Saxons broke out into the open we were able to get closer to individual warriors and I managed to make a kill in single combat with Scott from the "Vikings U Like" guys who sell Viking jewelry and belt fittings at Pennsic and Estrella War . I gave him my silk lance pennant as a memorial to his "death".

I have been told by several people who were on foot, that the vibration of the approaching horses was very intimidating to the people on the ground, but likewise the rumble and clashing of the people was very intimidating to the horses as they approached a strange environment. The riders and horses did practice the day before the battle to try to get ready for the battle, but that practice was limited to formation riding as a group, so we would look pretty for the spectators, not so the horses would be ready for combat. We should have had some simulated combat training too, but they never did that.

On the second battle reenactment day the horses were a little better since they already had experienced the combat the day before and that helped a little, but not very much.


In re-reading what I said here, I'd like to offer an addendum, lest anyone think this experience was indicative of true mounted combat, of the period, beyond the most general sense.

When I described riding past infantry and stabbing at them over their shields, I feel it needs to be stated that this was rather hard to do, the stabbing over shields part. What I mean is that the combat rules in effect specifically forbade striking the head, face or neck of anyone ( for safety reasons )! So to strike over a shield, whether from the ground or from a higher position, on horseback , was difficult if not impossible since the head was in the way when approaching from the front and a ban on striking from behind, made that option unavailable. This is unfortunately, the major aspect of the Hastings reenactments that made simulating real combat nearly impossible, to the extent the SCA does at its combat events. Anyone could just hang their shield in front of their torso ( the legal target area) and ignore head and leg shots since they didn't count, and never move their shield to defend themselves. It was up to the opponent to manouver his weapon around the static shield defense to make a killing blow. This was generally only possible in close and often open combat - where you could circle the other guy. From horseback where the horse was holding back or faced with a shield wall barrier, getting behind with a weapon was nearly impossible. My open field combat worked when I finally managed to slip my spear blade past a single shield and stab my foe in the gut, behind his shield.

-- Henrik Olsgaard

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sea Stallion from Glendalough

Friday, April 18, 2008

How on earth do you find these things?

I asked that question of Will McLean, author of A Commonplace Book, when he came up with an obscure trove of information about historic archery. He was kind enough to answer the question in this post.

The essence of the post is here:
In trying to recreate the Middle Ages, the 17th and 18th c. are useful places to look for hints if you can't find the information in a medieval source. It’s not perfect, but a lot better than using your enormous 21st c. brain to attempt to deduce things you don’t know from first principles. Diderot’s Encyclopedie was a great help to me in trying to recreate medieval scabbards, for example.

Will knows whereof he speaks. He has seen many enormous re-enacting brains come a-cropper, some as long ago as the 20th century, and has done lots of good work using, you know, scholarship.

A list of some of his favorite resources is here.

Image: Will, in one fabulous suit of armor.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Back in the field, April 2, 2008

I'm pining for some warm weather and some real Spring green, but there is something fascinating about the process of snow melting, forming pools, and then freezing over again. The hollow we use for our Labour Day get-together filled with rain and run-off yesterday and soldified into what looks like a perfect natural rink. (I doubt that it's strong enough to skate on, though.)

The pictures below show the Viking forge, the barrier (at the moment disassembled) for foot combats, and one of our dogs -- or is it a bear? -- in front of same barrier.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

This just in from the front

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Smelting in my backyard

After last Thursday's lecture on ancient metallurgy, at least one student was curious about why I had a used smelting furnace in my backyard. Here's an explanation (and if you are really curious you may find an earlier post in here somewhere--Sept. 2006?).

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

The new black

The site ThinkGeek is advertising costume chain mail shirts, made of butted aluminum mail (thus my calling it "costume" chain mail), for wearing around the office.

According to the site, "chain mail is the new black." Thank heavens something is the new black. I was awfully tired of the old black.

There are innumerable sites selling mail or offering to teach you how to make it yourself. Remember the real stuff was made by riveting each link closed with a tiny rivet. This takes real skill, not to mention patience. If you only want butted links, you can do it while watching bad TV programs. Then, it still takes patience.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Combat of the Thirty against Thirty re-enactment

At the recent SCA Pennsic War, there was a re-enactment of the 1351 challenge between 30 French/Breton men at arms and 30 English. An entire chapter of my book Deeds of Arms is devoted to this episode, and a 19th century translation of a contemporary Breton account , Froissart's somewhat later account, and a 15th-century Scots version are available at one of my web sites.

This site by Eirik Andersen has a very impressive collection of portraits of the re-enactors,
shots of their armor, and action shots. Since there are 160+ photos, I suggest you use the slideshow function and go back to individual pictures you might be interested in.

Thanks to Will McLean for inspiring this post. I'll add to his comment by saying that none of the re-enacting "Bretons" who in real life won the combat seem to have identified themselves as such.

Image: an interpretation of a mid-fourteenth century English squire, "Richard Larmer."

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

The difference between barbarism and civilization

For years now I have been taking part in a large medieval re-creation event in August. The event itself features mock medieval combat, archery, singing, dancing and partying, some of it not particularly medieval in inspiration. Most people who take part camp for a week or two at the site, and I have often found that situation inspires interesting thoughts. Living essentially outdoors for two weeks, with little communication with the outside world (though it is available if you need or like) is a fascinating and perspective-restoring exercise. Me, I'm basically illiterate for the whole period.

Since I and my friends camp together every year, we've acquired portable versions of what we consider necessities: a back-up water filter, a hot water heater scavenged from an old RV, a camp shower, and a kitchen sink with hot and cold taps. These are set up and taken down every summer.

Note that my necessities all come down to safe, easily available water? The year we got the shower setup my campmates were delirious with joy. I sure appreciated it, too, but the kitchen sink and taps meant more to me. The first time I turned on a kitchen tap and got good water I knew, instantly, that this was the difference between barbarism and civilization. Nice to have a shower. Far more important to be able to clean one's hands any time, and to be sure that kitchen utensils and dishes were always clean.

That moment of insight was a decade or so ago, and its rightness has become clearer to me as time has passed. Clean water available to everyone in a community is civilization; it means the community has certain technical capabilities, and is devoting its resources to the common good in a basic way. Furthermore, the predators and parasites who in so many places and times have prevented that allocation of resources are not in control.

We human beings of planet Earth have the capability to be civilized now. There can be no doubt that we are smart enough and rich enough. But we have yet to attain civilization.

a locked water tap in Kenya, from an Oxfam UK site.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

"Archaeology" in my backyard

Martin Rundqvist of Aardvarchaeology has challenged bloggers with appropriate interests to take and post pictures of their nearest archaeological site.

I'm not sure this qualifies but I think someone, somewhere, maybe New Mexico, maybe Yakutia, will be interested in this.

Every Labour Day long weekend for over a decade I've had a crowd of people camping in my back field for an event under the auspices of the Society for Creative Anachronism. A lot of the usual SCA things happen there, but because we've got a lot of space, a fair amount of time (long weekend) and something like a guarantee that the site will be available for a number of years, some more than usually ambitious and serious projects have been launched.

The archaeological connection is illustrated by the first two pictures. Darrell Markewitz, historical re-creationist, metalworker, and independent scholar, is fascinated by the process of making metals, especially the documented-only-by-archaeology methods used by the Vikings and other northern Europeans in the "Dark Ages" (you know, before they turned on the lights). Darrell knows the L'Anse aux Meadows site in Newfoundland well, and has for a long time been thinking about the smelting of iron that apparently took place at this small, temporary settlement. When he first camped here lo these many years ago, he dug a basement or "booth" like the one found at the real site, to see what the postulate metal workshop may have been like. Then, last year, with a host of collaborators, some long-term and dedicated, plus many more who willing to do a bit of hard labor for a laugh, he made a great big lump of decent-quality iron using no electricity to stoke the fire, just human muscle power and a double bellows he'd designed himself.

(Any errors in this summary are mine.)

So here is the booth or depression where the work was done. Real booths have superstructures, tents or huts.

Here's a closer shot showing the clay furnace after use (picture from today, in fact), propped up by some stones. The hole on the front is where the bellows was inserted.

A couple of other pieces of "above ground archaeology" on the same site. A monument to the local ravens, carved by a gentleman named "Foote," some years back, and painted by me last year.
And here's the biggest project, though it remains unfinished, a "meadhall" made of pieces from an old barn, recreating roughly imported English vernacular wood architecture as found at Jamestown, Va.
I hope Martin agrees that this is an appropriate entry for the "archaeological site nearest you."
Can't get much nearer, and if it's not old enough, only time can help that.

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Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Vikings are back

Not the movie, but a crew who have reconstructed a longship and intend to sail it from Denmark to Ireland. The ship is called the Sea Stallion and it will be launched tomorrow. The Sea Stallion has an attractive website which you can use, among other things, for following its progress.

Question: Vikings could be either merchants or pirates, and usually both. This applies to just about every sailor of ancient or medieval times. Very little "Law of the Sea" back then. Is there a good book about this?

Image: The Sea Stallion's first launching, 2004.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Living history

"Living history" has a normal meaning these days as a form of historical re-enactment or re-creation that is fairly strict in its efforts at accuracy.

I'm using it here in another sense -- as "history" that is still around. Like Clifton's Cafeteria in Los Angeles.

Once upon a time the place "fast food" occupies in North America today was held by cafeterias, which were a feature of the downtown areas where many jobs were located. If I remember family stories correctly, my grandmother worked for years in one called "Koontz's."

Well, the tide has been going out for such cafeterias for a long time now, but thanks to the LA Times (upon which may blessings shower down), I now know that even in the home of modern suburbanization some cafeterias still survive, including one of the most distinctive, Clifton's Brookdale branch. According to the story by staff writer Larry Gordon, this place has been serving the same food, to some acclaim, since 1935, when it opened.

Even better, it still preserves the original decor: a simulated redwood forest which includes "a waterfall, a tableau of a family fishing for trout and a tiny inspirational chapel perched on a rocky ledge."

As an architectural historian named Chris Nicols says."It's incredible to have a total immersive environment from the '30s that you can just walk into for the price of a cup of jello."

(The picture above is from this blog which includes the unprompted comments of a young customer.)

Not exactly my usual early history (before railroads, I like to think) but on the other hand its not exactly easy to find an undisturbed human environment that is over 70 years old. I was in New Delhi in 2005 and you'd be hard-pressed to find one there. There are a few sites that are centuries old but most of the rest has been built quite recently.

I can only echo the person in the article who said, roughly, "get out an enjoy these things while they are still there."

On a related theme, what about a feature of my own country that I never heard of, that has been called "the eighth wonder of the world," which has been fairly undisturbed for the last 1.3 million years?

In Northern Quebec, over a million years back, a huge meteor hit the ground, creating a 3.44 km wide crater that actually sticks out of the ground. It's been there ever since, collecting rain water that, thanks to being isolated from pesky primates, is very, very pure. It's called Pingualuit Crater (this site provides a permalink usable in Google Earth)and there's a very good article in the Globe and Mail about it.

The purity of the water in the absence of a local population and natural groundwater inflows means the sediments that do exist should be a valuable record of the climate, and more, over the past million years or so. Indeed, scientists have just drilled out a core and are no doubt hard at work on it.

There are days when I think the past is utterly lost, and we just have the present and its evidence for preceding mysteries. This is not one of those days.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Yurts -- are they everywhere?

A few days ago we spotted a yurt within the city limits of North Bay. At about the same time a friend told me she had a French friend who rented yurts to campers. You can see that rental site here. They also rent teepees (as I spell it) and "trapper tents" which look a lot like tents used by Civil War and other re-enactors on this side of the Atlantic.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Yurts from Russia invade Ontario

I know a lot of people who do historical re-creation of various eras and various levels of seriousness. Thus when I saw yesterday a yurt by the side of Highway 11, in a boat dealership, I had this feeling that I probably knew the owner/builder.

Well, probably not. Today's English Russia features pictures of yurts made in that country which, according to that blog, are now being marketed commercially as cheap housing and (I guess) in Canada as camping gear. The many pictures of yurts in the English Russia post look quite like what I saw, including the decorative wooden door spotted by my companion.

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