Category: rebecca-t - Part 2

Jobs for Witches at Wookey Hole Caves

The Witch of Wookey

Wookey Hole Caves, is planning to bring its ancient history to life by hiring a resident witch to live in the caves and teach tourists about their history and craft. Hours are seasonal, but this is no pocket money summer job the owners of the caves are offering 50k (pro rata) for the right witch.

The original Wookey Witch is thought to have lived in the caves during Britains Dark Ages, and put a curse on a local romance, before being turned into a stallagtite in return.

The Dark Ages are thought to have begun when the defeat of the last Western Roman Empire leader Romulus Augustulus in 476AD brought about the fall of the Roman Empire, bringing Britain down with it. There are few written records from the period, and scant evidence even of pottery, and historians are unsure of what went on during this unilluminated era.

The original Wookey Witch would be a far cry from the idea of witches that we have today. Despite her bad rep, the witches of the Dark Ages were generally thought of as doddering and harmless old ladies, eccentric and self-sufficient, with a knowledge of herbs – although this particular witch clearly had a bit of a chip on her shoulder when it came to courting. One writer explains:

‘During the darkest of dark ages in Britain… witches were thought to exist on the outer fringes of society, dabbling in various dark arts but not necessarily in evil or in practices harmful to the larger community. During these undocumented centuries, they were thought of as mostly isolated, curious figures, interested in magic or fairies. Examples might be those such as the Merlin character in the King Arthur legends or the fringe figures in Shakespeare’s MacBeth.’

Later, when the number of witches increased, conventional society took umbrage, and the image of witches evolved into the evil incarnation that children still think of today. By this time, society was just finding its religious feet again after the squabbling of the Dark Ages, and religious leaders decided to clamp down forcefully on the practice. By the Middle Ages, thousands of women were being killed across Europe in the now-famous witch hunts.

Lions and Hyenas and Mammouths… oh my!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

But the Wookey Witch wasnt the first inhabitant of the caves. Archaeologists have discovered that the caves have been used by humans for 50,000 years. Artefacts from the Iron Age have been found, as well as evidence of Roman occupation. According to The Modern Antiquarian:

Only the first chamber, lit by daylight, was occupied. In 1912 an archaeologist Herbert Balch excavated the site. Pottery found there dates this occupation to the late Iron Age and into the time after the Roman occupation. The discovery of the bones of two goats, a pot, and the remains of a tethering post indicate that part of the outer chamber had also been used as a goat pen; and nearby was found an almost complete skeleton of an old woman, plus a dagger, knife, billhook and a stalagmite / alabaster ball…

‘Workmen digging the canal in 1857 found the remains of prehistoric man, including flint tools, as well as the bones of animals such as hyenas, mammoths, rhinoceros and lions.

Caverns of the Stars

The caves are now transformed into a major tourist attraction, with its own museum and all the usual facilities, plus its own-brand cheddar cheese (the temperature of the caverns are perfect for cheese-making). They have also been used as a set for films, including several scenes from the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, as well as Robin of Sherwood and an episode of Dr Who.

Despite the ancient setting, the life of the new Wookey Witch will be a far cry from that of his or her spiritual ancestors. Public perception of British witches has come full circle, from harmless eccentrics to feared sorceresses, and back to harmless eccentrics again. But this time, there’s a very attractive salary package on top.

Auditions take place at Wookey Hole Caves on 28th July.

Why the Elgin Marbles Should Stay in the British Museum

London - British Museum - Frieze of the Parthenon (Elgin Marbles)

It seems that almost everybody with an opinion has taken the political, and emotional, stance that the Elgin Marbles should return to Athens, so I was surprised to come across an article by Richard Dorment this week which stood firmly on the side on the marbles remaining in the British Museum (Ok, well it was in The Telegraph, so I shouldn’t have been that surprised).

For the sake of argument, let’s look at his main points:

“Lord Elgin paid the enormous sum of 39,000 to acquire the marbles, and was careful to obtain documents from the Turkish Government approving their removal from Greece, which had then been part of the Ottoman Empire for 350 years.”

This would be a valid point, and its the one that the British Museum rests most heavily on. However, only fragments of this document remain, and although these do grant some permissions, they dont quite seem to permit Elgin to simply cart off whatever he likes back to England. Whats more, the authenticity of this document is disputed. Professor Dimitriadis, a scholar from Crete, points out that two authenticating elements are missing from the document – the Sultans emblem (a tougras), and an invocation to God (davet tahmid). Without these elements, he questions whether the document was genuine. Also, the Ottoman Empire were foreign rulers who no longer exist should documents issued under their rule be adhered to now?

“Since Parliament legally purchased the marbles from Lord Elgin in 1816, the British Museums title to them is unassailable.”

Surely this is dependent on whether Elgin was the rightful owner of the marbles in the first place, and at liberty to sell them to the BM? See above.

“The British Government cannot simply transfer their ownership to another European state. Objects in our national museums belong in law not to parliament but to their trustees. This ensures that no government can sell works from our museums to raise revenue (as happened in Russia in the 1920s), or give them away for short- term political advantage.”

This sounds like a rather woolly loophole that can be called upon, or ignored, at will. The British Museum has already agreed to repatriate two bundles of aboriginal human remains to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre of Australia. Italy managed to return the obelisk of Axum to Ethiopia, and thousands of artefacts looted by the Nazis during WWII have been returned to the Jews. Repatriation happens all the time.

I’m sorry, Richard Dorment, but I’m afraid your arguments dont convince me. Although I couldn’t help but crack a smile at your suggestion that:

“The Greeks should erect a statue of Lord Elgin near the Parthenon to express their nation’s gratitude to him for saving the Marbles.”

Maybe that should be built into the conditions of repatriation?

Image by WV Jazzman. All rights reserved.

Green Dam and The Great Firewall of China

 The Great Firewall of China

The Great Wall of China was an ambitious attempt by The First Emperor Qin Shi Huang to protect the people of China from invasion from warring nations and states. Today, a massive internet boycott will take place in protest against the country’s newest blockade – the Green Dam project.

As a military strategy, The Great Wall of China was simple to say the least, and its efficiency is generally thought to be limited. Guards are rumoured to have let in undesirables in return for bribes, and any army with serious intentions could find a way to breach it.

Interestingly, it is thought that the Great Wall was also intended to prevent evil spirits from entering the country, with some spent builders actually buried in its walls for that purpose. It’s difficult to ascertain how effective it was in this area, although both Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch have both managed to sneak into the country over the years.

The Great Wall was abandoned in the 1600s when a bunch of Manchu soldiers rode straight through a sentry point and into Beijing, where they established the Qing dynasty. They didn’t think much of the Great Wall (well, it hadn’t exactly thwarted their efforts, had it?), and simply left it to fall into disrepair. A lesson to be learned there, perhaps.

The Green Dam project is the second phase of a large-scale defence strategy implemented by the Chinese government. The first phase, the Golden Shield project – often dubbed the Great Firewall of China – is a large-scale censorship strategy that is set up to halt attackers and evil spirits (porn, violence, wikipedia, BBC…) trying to enter the country via its internet servers.


Like a 5ft wall versus an angry, well-equipped army, it has had limited efficacy. Although a lot of users remain content to have their browsing curtailed (or simply don’t know how to get around the censorship), angry surfers are logging on via a VPN (virtual private network) in order to access banned sites such as wikipedia and the BBC.

Like the bent sentry guards of the Great Wall, the guardians of the Great Firewall are also prone to corruption. The website Murphy’s Law recently reported that: “…a senior official (Yu Bing) of the Golden Shield operation was arrested for taking over $5 million in bribes to help one anti-virus software company put a rival out of business. The rival fought back in the courts, and exposed the corruption within Golden Shield.”

Green Dam was supposed to offer another layer of protection to vulnerable net users. From today, all computer hardware sold in, or exported to, China was supposed to come with Green Dam software, which would protect the user from being attacked by any marauding porn sites that attempt to hijack his or her PC.

Although some nervous net-users were comforted by the little cyber-soldiers, many more people were outraged at the government’s attempt to curb their freedoms. Last night, the government backed down, and announced that the Green Dam project would be delayed (they didn’t say until when).

Outspoken artist, commentator and blogger Ai Weiwei is today inviting users to boycott the web in protest against Green Dam – a move that has infuriated officials. Whether the Great Firewall of China, along with its little sentry of Green Dam guards, will go the same way as the Great Wall of China is yet to be seen. Given the aggressive tactics of viruses, hackers and social protesters, I don’t fancy its chances for long…

Video: Can Bloggers Collapse the Great Firewall of China?

Image (top) of Google sign by grenzfurther. Image of the Great Wall of China (bottom) by saseki.

Jeff Koons’ Michael Jackson – A Modern King Tut?

Michael Jackson and Bubbles

Jeff Koons, one of the most controversial, and respected, artists of our time, is set to launch his first British solo exhibition in London this week at the Serpentine Gallery.

He is thought to epitomise modern art but is Koons more than a little in debt to the ancients?

Graco-Roman Sex Cults

Raunchy Koons would have been well at home in one of Caesars Venus sex cults. In fact, he is reported as having said that he is inspired by the ancient Greek sculptor Praxiteles. An article in the Guardian reports:

‘Koons is fascinated by sex – it keeps coming into our conversation, in a conversation about beauty for instance. “If I think of the word beauty, I think of a vagina”, he replies. “I think of the vaginal – personally. That’s what comes to mind for me, or Praxiteles’ sculpture, the ass…” The ass he’s referring to is that of the Venus of Knidos, carved by the ancient Greek sculptor, Praxiteles, and displayed in a temple that allowed pilgrims to view the goddess of love from all angles.’

Venuses seem to raise their bare bottoms and missing arms throughout Koons’ work, and he seems able to spot aphrodital potential in the most unlikely of places. Speaking of his sculpture Aqualung – basically a piece of diving equipment, bronzed – he said:

“This is one of the bronzes that was there to seduce as a tool for equilibrium, and this always reminded me of the venus of Willendorf. Very voluptuous with all of these curves just like the Venus, and if you turn it around in the back you have your emergency ripcord so, if you go for equilibrium and you panic, you can resurface.”

Sexy curves and handy in a life and death diving situation – bonus.

The artists 1988 life-size sculpture ‘Michael Jackson and Bubbles’ (in which both are fully clothed) was displayed for some time in the Chateau de Versailles in France. No doubt Koons got a kick out of the grand historical setting, as well as the name of the area in which the sculpture was displayed the Salon de Venus.

Jeff Koons on Versailles:

The King Tut of Our Times

But with his ornate gold gilding, mask-like face, full dress and tomb-like encasement (complete with an animal), Koons Michael Jackson looks more like King Tut than a coquettish Venus. The ancient Egyptians were well-known for their love of gold, with King Tuts golden mask being the most famous example. Michael Jackson had a similar love of the shiny stuff, and had even taken, in later years, to wearing a mask in front of his face.

A sculpture of Kate Moss by Mark Quinn also drew parallels with the ancient Egyptians and Greeks when it was revealed last October at the British Museum. It was the biggest statue to have been made entirely out of gold since ancient Egyptian times, and was displayed alongside ancient Greek goddesses in a purposeful nod to the past.

Mark Quinn on Siren (and King Tut):

See For Yourself

Koons exhibition, entitled Popeye, runs from July 2 to September 13 at the Serpentine Gallery in London, and features new work never exhibited before. If you look closely, somewhere between the aluminium pool toys and the giant lobster, you may spot some of Koons ancient world influences.

Image of Michael Jackson and Bubbles by Tybo.

Done Stonehenge? Get Set For Manhattenhenge

The ponchos are in the wash, the 34 minor incidents have been recorded, the four cans of scrumpy per person have been consumed and recycled, and English Heritage has breathed a sigh of relief and locked the gates of Stonehenge against protesters and other undesireables for another year. Yes, that’s it, the summer solstice is now over.

Unless you live in New York, that is. Druids, hippies, and (probably) bored, unemployed bankers and thespians will descend on Manhatten for “Manhattenhenge” – the most important date in the Druid New Yorker’s calendar. The Manhattan Solstice happens twice a year, when the sun aligns with 42nd and 34th (and some other streets).

The term was coined by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. He explains:

“What will future civilizations think of Manhattan Island when they dig it up and find a carefully laid out network of streets and avenues? Surely the grid would be presumed to have astronomical significance, just as we have found for the pre-historic circle of large vertical rocks known as Stonehenge, in the Salisbury Plain of England. For Stonehenge, the special day is the summer solstice, when the Sun rises in perfect alignment with several of the stones signaling the change of season.”

Dates and times for this year’s solstices are:

Half Sun on the grid:
Saturday, May 30 8:17 P.M. EDT
Sunday, July 12 8:25 P.M. EDT

Full Sun on the grid:
Sunday, May 31 8:17 P.M. EDT
Saturday, July 11 8:25 P.M. EDT

Get yourself down to the east ends of 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd or 57th street, to get the best view.


King Arthur Pendragon Gets Home Visit

First he gets cruelly (and, many would say, unfairly) evicted, and then he finds his home crammed full of 35,000 half-cut hippies, and not the odd copper on patrol. It’s enough to make a reincarnated Medieval King hang up his cloaks for good. But King Arthur Pendragon is not going to let a little thing like being evicted stand in his way.

Druid's protest at Stonehenge

Pendragon’s home is a campervan parked on a byway 12, which is known locally as the Netheravon coach road, beside Stonehenge – the closest you can get to the stones without a ticket from English Heritage. There is no formal law against parking campervans on this road, and it seems that other visitors (presumably the ones who are just popping in to buy plastic Stonehenge pencil sharpeners from the English Heritage gift shop) are allowed to set up temporary home there.

Protesters at Stonehenge

The terms of Pendragon’s eviction order were that he had until 3rd May this year to pack up and leave, but the date passed without a move. In an interview with The Guardian last month, he stated that he has no intention of leaving his post as head protester at Stonehenge.

He says: “I am still here so I am in breach of the order as they see it but I have as much right as anyone else to be here. I am not blocking the byway; other tourists park along there. I am not going to go, I am battening down the hatches and continuing my lawful right to protest and my equal right to religious practice.”

Liveleak reported the weak counter-response from Stephen Helsby, Wiltshire Council’s Highways Enforcement and Traveller Services Manager: “This ancient byway is open to all traffic. Wiltshire Council, in its capacity as local highway authority, has a duty to maintain everybody’s right to use its full width without interruption or other obstruction.

“The council strives to protect all of its public rights of way from trespass and that includes byway 12, which is situated at the heart of this important world heritage site.”

As you’d expect, King Arthur Pendragon was at the front of the queue when Stonehenge was opened up to the public yesterday for the summer solstice. Like a prisoner on day release for his birthday, he got to enjoy the full comforts of his spiritual home for a few precious hours, before being hauled back off-site by the authorities. You might expect the rebel protester to use the opportunity to make a grand political statement, but reports are that he was on his best behaviour. In a BBC interview this morning he praised the good natured approach of the police and stated that “everything’s passed off very jovially and everyone’s in a good mood”

He’s obviously hoping to be let back in early, for good behaviour.

Marble Fight Gets Messy

The British Museum houses a suspiciously large stash of ancient relics, pillaged from around the world by British explorers back when there were no laws against that kind of thing.

But the countries of origin of many of these treasures now want them back, and the repatriation of artefacts has become a hot potato between the UK and countries such as Egypt, Turkey and China.

New Acropolis Museum from Acropolis

Image of the New Acropolis Museum by Skoobie99.

The UKs argument had, in the past, been that the origin countries do not have appropriate venues to house and display the ancient artefacts. With two major new museums – theNew Acropolis Museum in Athens and the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo – about to nullify this argument big style, the world holds its breath to see whether the British Museum will comply with demands to allow Greek and Egyptian artefacts to be repatriated.

The New Acropolis Museum, set to open on 20th June 2009, is Greece’s answer to argument that Athens has no suitable venue in which to display the Elgin Marbles (which were originally pillaged from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin), and was built to strengthen the country’s argument for their return. The trustees of the British Museum were invited to the down-graded credit crunch opening party, although, tellingly, there was no party invite for the relatives of Lord Elgin.

At the museum entrance, a signboard confidently describes the Parthenon Gallery as a “dress rehearsal for a permanent exhibition of the entire frieze”, reflecting the perhaps misguided confidence of Architect Bernard Tschumi that the marbles will definitely return. He says that the marbles should be the centrepiece of his $177million glass creation, arguing that fragments of the frieze should remain together, instead of split between Athens and London.

London - British Museum - Frieze of the Parthenon (Elgin Marbles)

Image of a fragment of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum, by WVJazzman.

But their return is looking increasingly doubtful. In a 2007 interview with Neil MacGregor, of the British Museum, he stated simply that the BM will never return their marbles to Greece, and possibly not even loan them, due to Greece’s refusal to acknowledge Britain at the rightful owners. Ouch.

The issue will be closely watched by Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, who is hoping that the opening of Cairo’s impressive Grand Egyptian Museum will lead to the return of looted Egyptian treasures such as the Rosetta Stone, now housed in, that’s right, the British Museum.

Image of the Rosetta Stone by Kip Carroll.

Last year, Egypt made a formal request for a 3-month loan of the Rosetta Stone, so that it could be viewed by the first visitors to the new museum when it opens in 2012. A dispute is already raging over the Altes Museum‘s refusal to loan Egypt the bust of Nefertiti, on the grounds that it is too fragile to be moved, and Egypt is becoming increasingly angry at the reluctance of foreign owners to return, or even loan, its nation’s heritage.

With similar battles for repatriation taking place between countries all over the world, the issue of repatriation is like a mass divorce in which everybody claims to be acting in the best the interests of the children. With the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone sitting pretty as the BM’s two top attractions, it’s unlikely that they’ll give up their babies without a fight. As divorces go, this one is already getting messy.

Prehistoric Pensioners From Outerspace

In 1930, Archaeologist Flinders Petrie excavated the tomb of a boy in ancient Egypt and was surprised to discover what appeared to be the full kit for a game of ten-pin bowling – the earliest evidence of the game.

However, the more recent discovery of a number of perfect, grooved spheres found by miners in South Africa have led many people to suspect that extra-terrestrials may have been flying in on their UFOs for a game of bowls back when we were plancton.

Over the past several decades, hundreds of the spheres, called the Klerksdorp Spheres, have been found by miners. There are two types – one made of a solid bluish metal, and the other with a white spongy centre – and reports claim that “at least one” has three parallel grooves around it. The spheres appear to be man-made. Trouble is, mineral deposits date the spheres back 2.8 billion years – a time when the we were nothing more than squirming bacteria trying to get a hang of photosynthysis – significantly predating the Egyptian find.

Roelf Marx, curator of the museum of Klerksdorp, South Africa, where some of the spheres are housed, reportedly said: “The spheres are a complete mystery. They look man-made, yet at the time in Earth’s history when they came to rest in this rock no intelligent life existed. They’re nothing like I have ever seen before.”

However, Marx is notiously mis-quoted, and other Klerksdorp Sphere supporters lack the expertise required to make such a grand theory fly. Gun-toting celeb Charlton Heston offered his penny’s worth in NBC documentary ‘The Mysterious Origins of Man‘: “In Klerksdorp, South Africa, hundreds of metallic spheres were found by miners in Precambrian strata said to be a fantastic 2.8 billion years old. The controversy centers around fine grooves encircling some of the spheres. Lab technicians were at a loss to explain how they could have been formed by any known, natural process.”

Local John Hund, noticing that the lumpy sphere was actually surprisingly well-balanced, sent an example off to NASA to be looked at. According to Hund, NASA scientists were baffled by the incredible balance of the sphere (as well as, presumably, the metric system):

‘”The stone is balanced to within one-hundred thousandths of an inch from absolute perfection,” explains Hund. One NASA scientist reportedly told Hund that they do not have the technology to create anything as finely balanced as this. He said the only way that either nature or human technology could create something so finely balanced would be in zero gravity.’

After scanning a 1982 article in Weekly World News (the only reliable news), Michael Cremo, cult author of Forbidden Archaeology, reports his conclusion of the issue: ‘In the absence of a satisfactory natural explanation, the evidence is somewhat mysterious, leaving open the possibility that the South African grooved sphere–found in a mineral deposit 2.8 billion years old–was made by an intelligent being’.

Sadly, wikipedia collates a lot of damning evidence to suggest that the spheres are plausibly naturally-occuring. Spoilsports.

What Now For the Stonehenge Protesters?


On a recent trip to watch the sun rise from behind the spectacular structure of Stonehenge, I was lucky enough to meet Druid couple Kim and Andrea (right). It was a couple of days before the Easter Solstice, and the pair were preparing to protest against the lack of free access to what they see as a place of worship.

Normally, the stones are only open during the visiting hours dictated by the National Trust. Visitors need to buy a ticket to get anywhere near the site; a ticket that forces them to walk the wrong way around the stones – anticlockwise. According to Kim, this is not only bad for Stonehenge, but bad for England. He points to the many ills of today’s society in England as evidence of this. There is certainly a lot of evidence to choose from!

Fenced Off

Click To Watch Video
A Druid Priest explains Stonehenge
Meet Kim Payne, a druid priest and listen to his explanations of the history of one of the world’s most enchanting and mysterious monuments. How did the stones get there? What are the issues with accessing it?

Full access to the stones is only granted at the Summer Solstice, which this year falls on the 21st June. On this date, druids and like-minded revellers are allowed to party like it’s 1999 (BC) right inside the stones themselves, with a full-on party leading up to what must be a spectacular experience of watching the the sun rise in perfect alignment with the Heelstone, from within the stone circle.

If only every day – or at least every solstice – were the same.

Kim and Andrea had managed to get to Stonehenge early and pick out a prime site to park their campervan, and expected to be joined by many more druids in time for the Easter Solstice protest. The single-track road on the western side of the site offered a good, if distant, view of the Stonehenge sunrise.

Click To Watch Video
Episode 8: Spring Equinox at Stonehenge
Nicole Favish heads to Stonehenge to experience the Spring Equinox – the point in the year where the day and the night are of equal length.

It wasn’t until later, while I was walking the wrong way around the stones with my National Heritage audioguide, that I caught a glimpse of their campervan on the other side of the electric fence and realised just how fenced off they must have felt.

With plans now in place to close off the A344 / A303, access to the site will be even more restricted. Where will the regular protesters park up? Kim and his fellow protesters have been known to make a mad naked run at the stones from the road where we met him. Let’s hope that they don’t have to run too far next time. It can be pretty cold on those Salisbury Plains.

Check some great stonehenge photos on our Heritage Key Flickr Pool .

The Ongoing Saga of Stonehenge


Back in 2000, which was by no means the very start of the ‘Stonehenge Saga‘, the Journal of Architectural Conservation published an article by Elizabeth Young and Wayland Kennet outlining the “national disgrace” that constitutes facilities at Stonehenge. The existing visitor centre was slated for its “grubby car park, tiny shop and loos”, and the authors complained that the stones themselves were fenced off. Additionally, attempts to agree on a plan to upgrade facilities had failed completely, and the situation had escalated into a “smouldering dispute that might, without care, burst into acrimonious flames”.

Since the first proposals, in 1991, to build a visitor centre at the Fargo site, any attempts to improve facilities have been thwarted. The size and scale of the site makes it difficult to build anything in walking distance of the stones without endangering the landscape and archaeology of the area, and UNESCO and other heritage organisations have long opposed suggestions that underground tunnels should be built to ferry visitors to the site.

The last 18 years have seen millions of pounds squandered, with plans proposed, opposed and vetoed on an annual and even bi-annual basis, and the appointed architects dropping out altogether. This January, a letter from the Council For British Archaeology stated that only two out of the latest batch of ideas developed as part of a public consultation were in any way feasible, and suggested that new facilities should be built on the site at Airman’s Corner.

This site is further from the stones than the initially-proposed Fargo site, and could appease some heritage organisations. Could there be light at the end of the rejected tunnel after all?