Tag Archives: Travel

A Capital Visit

14 Sep

Ah London, the capital city.  I was just a day tripper but I was greeted by the usual spectacle: the cacophony of car horns, the multitude of legs pounding the pavement and the incessant drizzle of the rain.  It all helped to provide a fine backdrop to this most hectic of cities.  It was the first visit for me to that bastion of the bibliophile, the British Library, a mere stones throw from King’s Cross.  Primarily here to view the ‘Propaganda‘ exhibition, I was left with a tangible taste of excitement upon seeing a copy of the Magna Carta (who knew there were 4 copies surviving?).   I was further left in awe whilst viewing the actual hand writing of Henry the VIII, of a letter sent to friends from Sir Isaac Newton in the midst of a probable mental breakdown during his mid 50’s, and on being able to read a note wrote by Darwin when answering his mounting correspondence and queries after the publication of ‘On The Origin of Species‘.  The detailed drawing of the dimensions of the human body by Albrecht Dürer, and the doodles of ideas and architectural fancies by Leonardo, on display were certainly worth the train journey down alone and it was hard to believe that these diagrams were over, or nearing, 500 years of age.  The propaganda exhibition was good (worth a look certainly, just bring some money), but it was these historic pages upstairs in the free to enter Sir John Ritblat Gallery that fired my imagination.

It was great to be able to read Elizabeth the I’s delicate but iron script, of the two examples juxtaposed next to each other: a letter she wrote from her days a young princess to a royal friend sitting quietly next to a death warrant she signed as Queen, both with the same elegant swaying ‘z’ of her signature.  Furthermore the exhibition made me realise the value of the written word, of the official documents and the personal papers that we leave behind, of our own letter trail that lasts long after our own deaths.

But also of the non-physical words we read each day, of the digital.  This blog will leave no material or physical self behind once it has gone.  I may have to print out copies of the posts themselves for my own future reference.  (I have also briefly considered printing the Skeletal Series posts out and making them into some sort of mini-manual to be posted out for free for any interested people, after they have been revised/edited of course).  But this is a tangent for another post, on the value and longevity of blogging.  Of course I could not leave the Library without first grabbing a new work of literature to read, and, true to the theme of the propaganda exhibition, I chose to indulge in some Soviet literature in the form of Platonov’s The Foundation Pit*.  Although not published in the Soviet Union during Platonov’s lifetime (1899-1951) due to his views, the book, and his canon of work, have gone on to acclaim despite his sidelining during the Soviet years.

After leaving the grand British Library we ambled over to the Wellcome Trust’s permanent exhibition entitled ‘Medicine Now‘, located at the Trust’s base on Euston Road.  A vibrant mix of art and science, the exhibition introduces challenging and rewarding concepts in the field of human biology, particularly in the individual perception of the body itself.  The exhibition itself, though small, makes the visitors interact with the displays themselves, actively encouraging participation and learning.  Science itself is intensely creative, whether in research or in it’s application, and the exhibition helped to demonstrate this most important of facts repeatedly.

So if you find yourself on a wet and gray day with a few hours free in central London, I’d highly recommend you check out the British Library and the Wellcome Trust for the free exhibitions on offer.

* I have since finished reading ‘The Foundation Pit’, and I highly recommend reading it.

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A Trip to the Continent

15 Aug

In between bouts of writing for the thesis to bookend my MSc here at Sheffield, I managed to fit in a recent trip to northern France with the family.  As I will not be blogging as regularly as I would like at the moment, until at least the bulk of the thesis is finished, I’d thought I’d share some photographic highlights of the trip.  The smaller photographs can be clicked on to enlarge*.

Intricate masonry of the Amiens catheral.

Amiens 13th century Gothic cathedral, one of the tallest of its kind in France, near the Somme river. Constructed between AD1220-1247, the level of detail is beautiful, and is reminiscent of its more famous sister, Notre Dame, in Paris.

The first stop for the clan was the beautiful city of Amiens, a few hours drive from our crossing point into France.  A deceivingly small city, Amiens has largely preserved some of the finest medieval architecture I have laid my eyes on.  Somehow surviving the two world wars, the Gothic cathedral is a particular jewel in the crown for the city, with such detailed masonry work the likes of which I had not seen before.  Perhaps most impressively is that during the summer months the front of the cathedral is lit as it likely once appeared during the 13th and 14th centuries AD (video).

at night…

This included the clever use of detailed lamps to cast bright colours on the numerous saints, angels and bible scenes portrayed in such vivid and detailed masonry.  The contrast between the dry and dull stonework during the day, and the almost garish colours of the night, is impressive and one wonders what the sights of medieval Europe would have really have been like if they were today as they used to be.  If one were given to hyperbole, one would describe the night show at the cathedral as a piece of heaven on earth.  We sat with the stars shining brightly above whilst the classical music that was played helped to echo the beauty of the stonework.  An occasional gasp slipped from the crowd gathered, as we sat in awe at the beauty lit up before us.

A blissful few days where spent wandering along the riverside paths where Jules Verne once walked, and we admired the hortillonages, those man-made floating gardens among the marshlands of the rivers Somme and Avre.  Soon however it was time to move to Saint Simeon, a small village located in the countryside, just to the west of Paris.

A mock defensive late medieval tower at Provins.

The new accommodation proved a relaxing change of pace, with fresh bread brought daily to the site, and a swimming pool in which we hid to ward off the midday sun.

A day visit to the town of Provins proved worthwhile and delightful, as the town has retained its original medieval fortified wall and buildings.  Even better was the medieval show that a  group of  talented actors put on, much to the delight of the many families present.  Dueling knights, howling wolves, serfs, slaves, romance, and incredibly well trained pigs helped the medieval walls to speak of what they may have once seen (minus the trolls).

The surrounding countryside of northern France held a dark secret that could occasionally be discerned by the bumps in the  landscape.  Too often a sign could be seen for a cemetery, marking the spot where those brave soldiers who had died during World War One lay in permanent rest.  A visit to the Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme proved to be a sombre moment of thanks to those who had gone before us, and to those who still remained missing in action.

The remains of the trench systems are particularly well preserved and evident at the Canadian memorial to the Newfoundlanders who fought in the war.  Even to this day the physical remains of WW1 affect those that farm the land in northern France.  The so called ‘iron harvest‘ can be found dumped at the side of the fields, as the farmers lay aside the metallic debris of the war and the Western Front- the shells, shrapnel, grenades, barbed wire and the bullets that still litter the ground, and are ploughed up year after year.

From war to romance, as we visited the city of love, Paris, for a day.  There is nothing that I can add that hasn’t already been said about the city.  It is safe to say that one day is not enough for Paris, nor is one night.  Amiens sister cathedral, Notre Dame, was spied, entered and admired, whilst I managed to view Paris from her most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower; that indomitable mistress that keeps watch over the city.  Built as a temporary structure for the 1889 Worlds Fair, she has continued her work as a tourist leader and telecommunications giant ever since.

The Eiffel Tower.

As we waited in the queue for the lift to the main viewing platform, my thoughts wandered to history, and that famous picture of Adolf Hitler standing and admiring his new prize in 1940.  It may seem odd to think such things in the city of love at such a romantic location, but to accompany me on holiday I had brought the sublime ‘In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century‘ travelogue by Geert Mak, and it had reached WW2 and the  ravages it left on the continent.

The Seine, the river that flows so majestically through Paris, accompanied our own walking tour as we spied various famous buildings and admired the artwork of the sellers and stalls which line its banks.  The Champs Elysees was walked along, whilst the Arc de triomphe was spotted whilst its modernist conceptual brother was framed behind it.  The sighting of Cleopatra’s Needle (actually Ramesses II obelisk) was accompanied by Napoleon’s Vendôme column, a few boulevards away.  Almost a copy of Trajan’s column, the Vendôme column celebrates Napoleon’s victory at the battle of Austerlitz in 1805.

A Parisian view: the river Seine in the foreground, and La Defense, the business district, in the background.

The Paris day trip was completed with a meal outside, within view of the Louvre, which houses Leonardo’s classic work, the Mona Lisa.  Unfortunately we did not get chance to enter the Louvre, but we did get chance to visit the Musee d’Orsay, which housed numerous paintings by the Impressionists, including  the artists Monet, Cezanne, and Manet.  My particular highlight was the chance to see Toulouse Lautrec’s paintings, and the Absinthe Drinker by Pablo Picasso.  The medium of art never ceases to surprise and move me.

Our final trip in France involved visiting the Chateau de Vaux Vicomte, a 17th century masterpiece of excess by Nicolas Fouquet, a minister in Louis XIV’s government.  The chateau was the result of Fouquet’s lavish lifestyle, and the work of three exceptional artists- Le Vau, Le Brun and le Notre.

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, or Fouquet’s Folly.

The opening of the baroque chateau and extensive sculpted gardens was presented in front of the King, Louis XIV.  Such was the King’s fury at the grandeur that Fouquet had spent, or had misspent the country’s money, that after a mere two weeks of officially opening the Chateau Fouquet had began a sentence of life imprisonment, never to be released alive.  King Louis XIV subsequently used the three artists to design, sculpt and construct a large majority of the Palace of Versailles. Our day visit here ended in an eventful ride in one of the golf buggy’s available to visitors, piloted by yours truly.

And so the journey to our nearest continental neighbour withdrew to a close.  We bid farewell to the fine weather and food.  A return journey to France surely beckons, as the osteologist in me regrets not being able to visit the vast underground catacombs of Paris where many skeletons lay…

au revior France!

* All photographs in this entry have been taken by myself.

Skeletal Series Repository, Amongst Other Things…

17 Jul

I’ve recently updated this blog with a side page, the Human Skeleton tab, for the skeletal series posts.  It can be found just next to the ‘About’ section.  Here you can handily find all the posts that I have wrote so far about the bones in the human body as used in the study of human osteology in archaeological contexts.  The posts discuss the human body in easily recognisable sections (such as leg, arm etc), and the contents include information on how to recognise and name various elements, anatomical landmarks and what to expect if you have the pleasure of digging them out!

Hopefully the series will give you enough information on how to differentiate and recognise the various type of bones in the human skeletal system, and also provide information on how individual bones fit together as whole in the skeletal system.

Meanwhile I’m currently back home relaxing and reviving myself after the 2nd semester of the masters program.  Shortly I’ll be heading out to visit our nearest continental neighbour, France, with the family for a week or two, so you may not hear from me in a while.  I am hoping that there will be a further guest blog or two in the near future, but I’ll be back to write about the next entry in the skeletal series, the human foot (Pes), soon enough.  In the meantime I’m sincerely hoping the dissertation has wrote itself whilst I am frolicking in the French countryside, but I highly doubt that will the case…

I recently had the great pleasure of excavating a medieval site in the lovely Peak District village of Castleton with the University of Sheffield.  Obstinately, the yearly project aims to find the medieval leper hospital in, or just outside the village, but there has been little luck this season of digging which was recently completed.  Whilst I only partook in a few days worth of excavating, it was with great pleasure I found myself in the great (wet) outdoors once again.

One particular highlight was the digging of a test pit in someone’s back yard under a gazebo with a dear friend, as the rain lashed down and the thunder rolled and roared overhead.  Minutes after the downpour the bright rays of the sun penetrated through the dark clouds and the backdrop of the 12th century medieval castle high up on the hill became clear for all to see, it was an immense sight for sore and tired eyes!  The excavation provided immense relief from sitting at a keyboard and it reminded me why I love field archaeology, and archaeology in general, so much.

Across my travels online I have had the pleasure of reading the adventures of various archaeologists recording their views of the sites they have dug at.  A particular favourite can be found at The Facts of My Ignorance site, a delightful read of Callum Dougan’s traipse across Mediterranean and Levantine archaeological sites, volunteering in various countries and at various digs as he goes.  His entry on the City of David project is enlightening, and revealing.  I have heard of this site before through friends who are studying for the MA in Biblical Archaeology here at Sheffield, and it seems archaeology will forever be tied in with politics, particularly in light about out who funds archaeology and why.

Over at Amateur Archaeologist, an impressive self leaner has collated a vast range of online archaeological and linguistics archive as well as writing detailed articles on a vast range of interests from Egyptian archaeology to Mesoamerican linguistics, cultural heritage management  to archaeological ethics amongst other topics.

I haven’t mentioned it yet on this blog, but Dr Fitzharris’s The Chirurgeons Apprentice is a site to watch out for!  It is an amazing repository and archive of detailed research on the ‘early modern chirurgeons’, the forerunners to today’s medical surgeons.  This site never disappoints and provides some fascinating insight into what terrors awaited the 17th century person if they ever happened to have an accident or become ill.  The subtitle perhaps says it all- ‘A website dedicated to the horrors of pre-anaesthetic surgery’.

Up next is Robert M. Chapple’s site who is a professional field archaeologist based in Northern Ireland.  On his site are a number of interesting articles on Irish archaeological sites he himself has dug at, alongside various posts on archaeology in the wider world.  His entry on his own ‘Transit Van experiment‘ is edifying, and revealing, about the state of theoretical and field archaeology.

Meanwhile Hazelnut Relations is a blog ran by the PhD student Marcel Cornelissen at the University of Zurich.  It focuses on use wear analysis of microlithic tools across the Mesolithic-Neolithic (Pre) Alpine Central Europe.  While his blog does focus on this topic, it also carries a much broader selection, and the author has many years experience in field archaeology in various European countries.

Finally we have Wunderkammer, a tumblr blog dedicated to arresting medical/historical images.  The byline, ‘a curiosity cabinet of (un)natural wonders’ intrigues, and the site does not disappointment.  One perhaps not for the faint of heart.

I’ll be back in a while, hopefully with a few different articles on palaeopathology, and the next instalment of the skeletal series.  In the meantime au revoir!