Friday, May 20, 2022

Archaeodeath vs. Mermaid: Archaeology Fact & Fiction 1 (with @mermaidjacy)

This is archaeo death an exploration in the archaeology of death and memory past and present with professor howard williams hi professor howard how are you just howard hello i'm jc how are you oh you're gonna be mermaid oh yeah exactly we're all formal in here as you can totally see .

I dressed up for the occasion wow well i i'm underdressed although i've got my cern abbas giant archaeology needs you t-shirt on it i'm sorry you know probably should be banned i'll probably get banned for that but you know not today no there's many different reasons for us to be banned and that is not one of them i'm so excited to meet .

You oh my gosh okay so i have um several people on my end that are huge fans of you know viking culture early people so what i'm going to do is before we begin our in-depth conversation i want you to introduce yourself to my side and let people know what you're about what do you do so the stage is yours my friend go for it okay .

Yeah i mean great let's let's start off i'll do an introduction so my name's howard williams i'm a professor of archaeology and i work at a university so i teach in research and i do admin and all the boring stuff like mainly most of my life is deleting emails but i call myself an archaeologist and so i work at the university of chester in the .

Northwest of england on the vape border of wales the very center of the the british isles if you like and uh what i do well i lost 23 years having completed my phd i've been teaching a range of academic institutions doing field-based research lab-based research desk-based research into the human past that's what archaeologists do .

We study the human story through material traces be it entire landscapes buildings objects dead bodies and things like that you know so that's what we do and i teach that stuff and i research that stuff and i do specialize in early medieval archaeology uh particularly early .

Medieval wales anglo-saxon england and viking scandinavia and various other bits and bobs along the way so where exactly are you located where exactly are you located yeah right so i live across the border in wales so i am a welsh i i i i'm i by residency and by ancestry i am welsh and a bit of english but a scottish bit of other bits and .

Bobs but i live in wales and i i'm only uh 13 kilometers eight miles from my place of work which is in the beautiful city of chester um just across the english border oh that's fantastic so you're not too far away we have a very dear mermaid friend who's in wales and that's my friend mermaid joanne and she is a .

Wildlife biologist oh fantastic oh fantastic well and she's she's welsh welsh well she's resident and everything good fantastic we certainly do well right now she's my first one and i said to her because i believe wales you got out of any place in the world you guys have the most castles per square kilometer out of .

Anywhere else in the world i think this this is true even more than the scottish borders where you have more yeah and i was like mermaid joanne where is my mermaid castle content like where is it so i just keep telling her but i'm i'm so honored to meet you and welcome to in case you're here i'm coming from you from ontario canada i am .

A landlocked uh fish um so you know we we're fresh water here um but i have so many people on my side that are uh big fans of you know the subject matter of your area of study so i have so many questions for you and so many things .

To talk to you about um but so the first question that i have for you and you can take as long as you want to answer this is how does your field specifically get funding to do the um the excavations .

And the exploration of burial sites like where does that come from okay so uh funding for archaeology comes from a variety of sources so i will break this down very quickly into the fact that archaeology is a discipline in the uk but also this applies to other places including canada us other parts of europe it .

Operates through museums and and government departments through commercial archaeologists working ahead of development and through universities universities often do research excavations uh in other words we only dig when we've got a good question we don't just go hey guys let's just rock you know wall softened dig up some old .

Site we we're doing excavations that train our students and also answer specific questions and to do that we get funding from our own university sometimes we get funding from national government funded bodies when we used to be in this wonderful thing called the european union we used to have access to european science money to do our work as .

Well and now we're in a slightly different situation which is a bit controversial but uh you know we basically urinated away that opportunity and it's supposedly going to be replaced by uk funds but it probably won't so we get funded by applying for grants and national regional funds to do field work and to do our work i'm in a kind of .

Interesting position because many uk universities are don't make their money off their teaching they rely on big research grants to get money in to simply pay salaries i'm in a teaching orientated university so i'm heavy teaching but the good side the strength of that means that actually my salary to .

Do my job is largely paid by the students who come in to study and i i only have to do a little bit of extra research grant application whereas some of the bigger uk and university departments they really are relying on a short-term panic of constantly applying for grants just to keep their salaries paid so i'm .

I'm kind of in a lucky it's head it's hard work but it's actually a good balance for me that's the kind of way i'd answer it so a range of places you get we get our money but our salaries are paid by the government through students and government allocation of money to to deliver teaching .

And then applying for grants to do research yeah because you you mentioned something in one of your recent videos of the viking gaming pieces that we were many many years ago that you were on the site for and you talked about the permissions that you had to receive in order to so when you said that you go in .

And you go for exploration for a purpose there's also a certain amount of people that you have to say hey can we do this right and who does this property belong to and things like that can you talk a little bit more a little bit more about that i mean so you'll see certain other archaeology creators getting very very justifiably frustrated when they come on .

Apps like this and they find there are lots of metal detectors who are really responsible but some who are not people who just collect and that's all cool as long as it's obeying regulations and likewise archaeologists don't just go out just because we've got qualified to be archaeologists doesn't give us a free .

Writer we don't sort of rock up with an fbi type pass and go we're archaeologists we're going to dig this field okay you know bring in the helicopters bringing the drones bringing the no indiana jones theory yeah or equivalent yeah 100 native workers you know or you know that kind of sort of colonial model of you know sort of .

Doing the job you know sort of uh you know vying against those nazis just on the other side of the ridge you know digging in the wrong place you know that kind of thing though we just so we never have to watch your whip we do have we have permissions a landowner permission um usually um .

If it's a scheduled monument a protected monument then there's government permission there's state permissions we have to convince and then there's the money to do it we have to have secured so there's lots of levels and even when we can do it the question is should we do it should we do those interventions should we do the .

Work and then there's a whole bit of ethical questions about what we dig and why and so while i call myself a specialist in burial archaeology in my career i've done very few burials um and that's a that's not a sign of him i don't i don't have that as a badge of shame that's a pride thing that we most of my work is not about .

Necessarily trying to um disturb the rest of lots more people who were buried at various different times in the human past but to actually you know investigate we've excavated so many burials in circumstances where those burials would be destroyed if we hadn't done the work ahead of .

Development of a rally line a road a new supermarket or something like that and there's so much research to be done on those that we don't actually do need to always do new digs new discoveries are great but archaeology is not about discovery in terms of new finds a lot of it is about detailed interrogation of existing data sets .

So yeah a lot of permissions required and a lot of careful responsible choices about when and how we do our work so so do you think that um these sites when you said that they would have otherwise been destroyed you know through the piping for um houses or like you said a railway or something like a subway um is that how a lot of .

Your work is kind of found like stumbled upon like someone's digging they go oh what's that i better call an expert kind of thing like is that normal for your area of field or do you guys have high level technology to like infrared it well we have we have um a number of a lot of .

The best archaeological finds are found not by archaeologists they're found by members of the public metal detectorists or just people doing a tiny bit of garden digging or you know in a field and walking with their dog and they come across something and so a lot of the genuine .

Archaeological finds are found by members of the public right and then they report them if they're responsible they won't just go i'll put that in my pocket and keep it in a drawer for 20 years or try and sell it on ebay they'll say which happens a lot or you know we have big problems with you know um .

You know metal detecting rallies and and where those materials are not being reported responsibly but we do have many fines just to look on the positive side that are being discovered by members of the public who have a sense of responsibility that's why our public relations is so important who then report it we also have a lot of .

Excavations most of our excavations are happening ahead of development ahead of housing estates ahead of roads as i said and a lot of the commercial sector are finding the new staff rather than academic archaeologists that are only doing a tiny fraction of the excavations and field work um so a lot of our discoveries come from the public or from .

Commercial sector archaeological work you know and then we we're our job is very much to try and synthesize put that into give it a context give it a meaning why is this stuff important some things you think well that's obvious why it's important but not it's not just simply identifying what we found .

I'm trying to understand the broader context so some of my colleagues spend most of their careers writing up specialist analyses of objects found by commercial archaeologists so the commercial archaeologists will do the dig and they'll say we need a roman pottery specialist .

Who understands our international trade connections of roman pottery to explain our site for us we have done the excavations in a professional way but so there's many archaeological sub-specialists many archaeological scientists who analyze the pollen remains or the plant macro fossils or the animal bone or the metal work you .

Know and so it's a team exercise at different stages to build the story it's really and the other cliche that even though people think of archaeology as um you know indiana jones and hell we know that's a cliche but there's still the idea of the one the single discoverer the single usually white male with a hat and a whip you know .

Scratching the chin and going ah it's ancient aramaic and it says this you know there's still the idea there's a one person it could be a woman but the point is um the the stereotype is of a single investigator right and in the reality is most archaeological work is teamwork is is is is building .

Stories through long-term you know investigations in working with other collaborators who have specialisms and in many ways historians have the bigger stereotype to fight of being isolated single you know manuscript burrowing uh little .

Sort of rodents have have a have another stereotype like of the of the single detective or investigator but in reality we all rely on each other and we're all building the story by collaborations yeah so it's good well actually that's an interesting thing it can be fun that's an interesting word that you used .

You said the word story so like one of my questions for you in regards to what your field finds is um because of a lot of the people in my opinion this is again an outsider opinion a lot of the people that um you're trying to tell their story and how they lived they seem to live .

In a heavy relationship with their cultural beliefs with uh mythology with religion and so my question is um do you find it difficult to decipher something that is more on the fantastical side and and how they actually encounter encountered an event or maybe there was like um .

A natural occurrence like a flood or something that happened and maybe there's a writing or a tale of it and they're attributing it to their god and like whatever um does that often happen in your field that you're trying to decipher what ancient people are trying to say without it being fantastical yeah i think it's a really interesting .

Um thing that really we i've addressed this in a number of videos actually and it's something i i'm i'm very i'm really passionate about making sure we don't we we tell we communicate this point very clearly to audiences who may have different faiths .

Different beliefs different spiritual connections and who may have different understandings of their world and how other people in the past have had very different understandings of theirs and what i try to say the way i pitch it is the archaeologists are storytellers and to do that we do have to get as .

Anthropologists do we have to get outside of our western modern way of thinking and prioritizing and we get mocked for this we get mop for this and oh everything archaeologists find is ritual it's irrational it's part of some non-western way of thinking but you know i'm sorry we can be mocked for that and we can be .

And sometimes there are some archaeological finds where there are some pretty straightforward interpretations and archaeologists could have gone with those and that there are some comedy almost comedically ridiculous sort of um towers of uh sort of cars you know .

The interpretation is built up and you think where did we how did we get to this crazy position but i would say that while it's mocked and we are laughed at sometimes for doing that we are doing a job that is partly science but partly um guesswork and some people mock us for that oh it's just all made up no it's a .

Careful construction of a story based on fragmentary evidence and with we have to keep a keen awareness that the people we're investigating did not hold our experience of the world they had very different and that goes from everything from subsistence strategies through to religious beliefs .

And the ways those those those those belief systems how the world originated how it operates operate interact on a daily basis there wasn't just a religious time or and this is true of our society too of course but we so often want to compartmentalize and and and we cannot do that with the human past .

And to simply see these societies as um more simplistic models of our own way of thinking and i see this as really dangerous because i see a lot of history and other creators on this app actually .

Doing this they assert a common sense understanding of the universe based on a early 21st century western usually white male and assume that is that gives an authority to how we should approach the past and how we should prioritize our interpretations and it's .

Exhausting because it's so it seems so straightforward it seems so common sense and this this rash this constant rhetoric of common sense common sense well it's obvious it was this it was obvious this is what they were doing in this in this particular period it was all about economic functionality it was all about .

You know our priorities and that's not an intelligent or indeed logical way to approach the archaeological record and when you think of pressing issues for our future this is where it also becomes exhausting when we're thinking about our concerns over climate change environmental protection when we're thinking about cultural .

Resources we're thinking about the finite nature of our planet if we still if we think about the human past as simply a story of how we exploit and utilize economic resources with no engagement with that environment beyond utility then it does serve a very powerful narrative uh for our future and that's the problem .

With the past is that if you if we can see this territory to these simplistic narratives it's not just about what happened in the neolithic or what happened in the bronze age or the roman period it gives credence to a perpetuation of our behaviors today and for our next generations to to see this as this is the way we've always .

Done things people have always you know i don't know what it may be and you see it being rattled out again and again so i am quite passionate about that because both our attitudes to the environment our attitudes to the way we live um are often seen as inevitable as you know we are living the way we living .

Because you know that's the only way we can do things and and i think archaeology and um it shows us actually that there are many different ways to live in the on the planet earth and there have been a myriad of different ways in which people interact with the world and archaeology is therefore able to show .

Possibilities to unsettle people today and they should and that's the other thing about archaeology is we shouldn't be writing cozy stories that make people feel good about themselves we should be highlighting that the past was a different place and it opens up new possibilities for how we do things in the future .

Well actually that's a really good point that you just made no not at all no it's it's real it's realistic because you just mentioned something really really good that was actually one of my questions i'm trying to find it here oh do you feel that um from your observation especially on this app because like i've been .

Watching some of your engagements with other people and i'm just like i don't know how you academics keep your cool when you just want to strangle someone i don't understand um you you're a living state but do you feel that vikings are just like oh my gosh i wouldn't i wouldn't even engage with some of those .

People i just blocked them immediately but um do you feel that viking culture is romanticized in today's world and could that possibly have consequences um that are either negative or positive because um here in north america we have a lot .

Of viking aesthetic or scandinavian aesthetic uh thrown at us both on you know social media or um over you know the television and stuff and it seems to be very romanticized so i don't really know how you guys feel .

About that i've got i've got to react to a couple of things said in my chat if i may because they please do what you're going to say is that mary says here hello mary she says that i have lots of practice from other social media platforms of dealing with um and and what's interesting is i have learned a lot it's .

Been quite exhausting but i have learned and built a style of dealing with characters because i've also realized and this has been quite shocking and mary knows this very well but actually some of the most robustly um vociferous people i've had to deal with in the last two and a half years .

I've been within the academy i've been actually within academic circles that's shocking and so actually i quite i kind of i've been used to i've been actually used to um i have better relationships with plumbers mechanics uh you know uh academics in other disciplines um .

Teachers you know i can i can talk on social media with people from all manner of backgrounds and and and i would also say i'm quite forgiving because people can say things that sound naive and they sound a bit dodgy or racist or something and then you find after a couple of exchanges they're not at all .

They may be they often reveal themselves within a back and forth of a couple of exchanges whether they're just trying to posture because they've got some radical or extremist view they want to spout and they don't really want to hear you but then often there's been a few characters where i've said something back thinking they are that way inclined .

And they've got ah thank you for explaining i get you now and they say something that in a couple of words reveals that they're genuinely asking you know they were just genuinely asking and they weren't trying to and so i would say i am quite forgiving of the pub the public which could be people with three degrees it could be people .

With no education i'm not snobbish about this anyone that's new to the subject but i actually find that academics are some of the worst at this so actually that's my first point but then that leads me to this vikings issue which i've been addressing over the last month and a bit because again there's so much .

Popular interest in the vikings and some people are generally naive about it i don't realize that there are some really hard extremist and quite dangerous ideas out there yeah um and a lot of people just think our vikings are fun vikings are good or vikings are i see a spiritual connection an ecological nature indigenous a spiritual a you know .

They were cool warriors you know i i've played video games it can be as simple as that and they are not wrong to be interested and fascinated in that they are an early medieval northern european set of cultures or set of peoples and relationships there's a whole debate there um .

Which fascinates people now i didn't create that that's not my problem but it is academics fault we've created the vikings hollywood has taken over and people say oh it's hollywood's fault it's hollywood no academics did this 19th century early 20th century historians linguists um .

Literature experts we created the vikings that we consume right so we as academics are kind of indirectly not personally responsible we talk about legacies and inheritance of colonialism racism imperialism all the time on this app but in academics can't just say oh that's other people's problems it's just silly people who don't understand the .

Details no we we've created this monster in a way and we've got to keep checking it and talking with it but we can't control people from being interested in it but what we can do is engage with them and point out when and how they can responsibly use this in the same way as you could say well lots of .

People like cute pictures of dogs on tick-tock does that mean they're all going to be mistreating dogs no some of them are going to be really caring about those dog training videos or just a picture of a cute dog jumping into a box or something and they'll go oh that's a nice dog i never want to own a dog but that is cute other people go you .

Know when i own a dog i'm going to make sure it has fun others will be going ha ha you know look at that dog let's find something horrible to do to it when i and so i can create a video but you know that it's always going to be a minority whatever community there is just randomly pick dog owners i don't know why they'll be the people that you .

Know don't respect the animals and have and do things that are just dangerous but that doesn't mean i shouldn't keep a dog or like dogs myself but i can be on this app and talk about those dogs and train talk about training or talk about the culture and of of of how to behave with animals in a in a home setting or out walking you know so it's .

The same with vikings these vikings we can't we can't stop people liking them but we can talk about them in an informed and educational way encounter those that spin dangerous narratives and i finally got to your point about romanticizing is that the romanticization of past people is not a problem in itself if it's a .

Starting point of a journey it's only a danger if that's as far as people go yeah so if people watch like saving private ryan and use another lounge you go yeah i really like saving like private live lots of americans died in the first five minutes that was fun there you go uh i think you might have .

Missed the point of the film and then other people goes yeah they killed lots of germans hooray and you go i think the film was about something else you may not like matt damon but you know you may not like tom hanks but you may not think it was accurate as a representation of omaha beach or whatever but at the end of the .

Day if that's your level then maybe those are people to counter but then there are stories within stories and levels of learning and there will be people that want to take it further and learn something about the social economic context the political context the military procedures of the normandy landings and then and learned something .

About jewish identity or german identity or or the the complexity of people's lives enlisted in a global war and you know so like in any popular engagement there are going to be the individuals that just stop with the violence or the gore or the cool image and think that's cool and and you can't do much about that but try to take .

Them to the next level to take them on a journey well we kind of so um this is a little bit uh out of the area of expertise but like we sort of dealing with the same thing in you know my area of expertise which is like early childhood education and i sort of pair that up with my .

Nonsense that i do to like help bring ocean education to children that's basically what i do um but we kind of have this um sort of thing in the scientific community of uh the great aquatic ape theory i don't know if you're familiar with the .

Aquatic ape theory and like basically if a mermaid was you ever heard of this so it's like if a mermaid is real if mermaids were real what would they look like well they would be incredibly fatty right full of blubber and they would uh be covered in a thick layer of hair like a seal they wouldn't look like .

This they wouldn't look like that you've ruined my life i'm sorry i'm sorry i can't i can't i can i can't help it i'm sorry i'm gonna ruin everyone's day but it's just awful because um the aquatic ape theory is fun right it's a fun great little thing that we can all .

Talk about and like oh you know when our ancestors came down from the trees and went to the shores and started to eat all that seafood that then expanded our brains as we started to walk upright did some of us stay in the water did some of us go on that it's a great little conversation right .

Um okay but then you have uh people that just go listen because you're talking about this you're completely discredited and you're insane and it's like no no i understand you because we have not um i don't like to say the in the words the scientific community i don't ever like to say the words no to people so .

When children ask me you know are there real mermaids are you a real mermaid i just say that i'm like have you ever seen a real mermaid right i don't ever i don't like to answer with yes or no because um i haven't been to the deepest parts of the ocean i haven't been to the furthest reaches of the world and neither has .

Science logically probably not but i'm sure that you probably have the same sort of thing in your world where like because you're building on a story you go to one dig site and you go oh look at that this person like with the gaming pieces and you're recently oh look at .

They didn't have a full set he carried gaming pieces with them to participate in the game that was happening in the after light that's another part of the story and in this burial group so maybe they did that in that burial thing maybe um uh you know we found a mirror we found a comb that's actually one of my questions .

With the combs because the north americans are so obsessed with combs and the vikings and combs you have no idea do you know about our obsession with the combs well not not quite so much but you're going to have to god well that's one of my questions did were vikings obsessed with .

Hair hygiene yes i mean i think to some extent yes i mean i think most early medieval people were obsessed with uh hair uh but i think there's a bit of a stereotype i think it's the john of the wallingford 12th century account that the anglo-saxon women liked viking men because they actually washed i think i mean that's as much of a stereotype i .

Mean it's like two or two three centuries later you know i think we've got to be from the representations we have all early medieval men and women would have spent a lot of time de-lousing and preparing their hair washing their hair cleaning their head hair beard hair if they had it and you know we we find .

The archaeological evidence represented of that so yeah to a degree but i don't think the vikings were a bit clean and everyone else was dirty no that's pretty much what well there's this big thing about viking hair here in north america and did vikings have braids did they not have braids what kind of braids did they have did they have dreading did they not .

Have dreading like it's this huge subject for debate here well i mean let me put it this way to you actually 99.9999 of the historical events and archaeological sites that we discover um nothing matters about how their headgear or .

Their hair looked you know the fact is people say oh well we know the vikings didn't have horned helmets but you know what it doesn't matter it doesn't matter let's imagine that maybe some did you know i don't think there's any evidence for it but that's why i play this game as a piece of rhetoric i say i believe in horn .

Helmets because do you know what it makes no difference but people get so exercised about something that makes absolutely no freaking difference in in our archaeological interpretations and um and the dre yeah the dread just peop some people are saying in my comments here the dreadlock issue um because .

People say oh well vikings had dreads we don't really have that evidence i don't know what yeah i haven't really looked into why people say that other than just a a sort of white person's reflex against culture yeah it seems to be yeah i don't know enough about it i really don't no .

No again me neither as a white female it's just something that black creators on this app seem to have brought up a lot that um specifically uh you know they'll be talking to um you know white people about how they wear their hair and what they do and the big .

Comeback is oh yeah well vikings had it like that that's always seems to be the the number one go-to and i'm just like huh yeah i don't i don't think you got a leg to stand on there my guy well i think we can assume that many past cultures had many elaborate hairstyles and they cared heavily about .

Their external appearance for a variety of social economic aesthetic purposes but it's like the idea about stories and storytelling you know getting back to your your issue of mermaids is that yeah it's not necessarily as archaeologists we've got it's not necessarily about whether we believe these things actually existed but if we're working with oral .

Histories working with folklore sources working with art working with trying to understand how people saw their world it's not so much about whether we want to prove or disprove a past historical reality it's about how trying to understand how past people conceptualize their world and that's where it's really interesting .

And where i think you can we can explore fantastical beasts we can explore the stories that involve interfaces between worlds and this applies for norse mythology as well we we we're finding in the archaeological evidence the very homes the very where the stories of these gods would have been told the very the very artifacts .

Which are parallels real world parallels to the objects that are described in latest mythological stories when we're talking about when the norse are describing the halls of their gods the chariots the the horses you know i mean apart from the eight leg thing you know they are described they had a world a real world where they are adorning their .

Own best ponies which they are early medieval horses are basically ponies you know they're not there yes they're everybody john wayne not everyone looked like john wayne on a horse you know everyone because they were all little ponies you know icelandic ponies are the closest we have in europe to early medieval breeds right everyone was .

Adorning and combing and you know looking after their their um their ponies and dressing them up and they're imagining the gods as having this that were extra you know so that the world we find in those myths is a world very tied to the reality i mean you could i don't know if someone's done it you could do a comedy modern day version of it and well .

It's like american gods i suppose you know neil gaiman's done this you know but you know the modern day version of a of a polytheistic pantheon where everyone's driving the blingiest cars living in the biggest mansions in the you know in the hollywood hills that kind of thing that is the world it's like a soap opera world that the norse .

Mythology is it's the viking version of a modern soap opera everyone's got extra bright sparkly teeth and everyone's got slightly different relationship problems occasionally locking each other's heads off you know which it doesn't appear in most americans just a normal friday yeah but you know it's that level it's that stylization of real life so it's .

Not it's not a fantasy world it's an abstraction and stylization of their reality and so i think do you find that they're do their deities and their beliefs and their mythologies often have a lot of parallels to like something that we're more familiar with uh .

Roman mythology or greek mythology that like these people kind of have they're very dramatic these they're very dramatic gods they're very emotional beings yeah i mean i think i think there are some parallels i think a lot of the way that the two close parallels can be made and i think a lot of that is a result of .

19th century authors trying to make the north pantheon the the north version of the greek pantheon so a lot of the way we perceive the norse pantheon is is basically a reflection of us trying to make them look like greek gods and which is really interesting when we come full circle with god of war in these video games where they're .

Taking yes gods and put greek gods and putting them in the north pantheon that is very much a parallel for 19th century myth-making but that's another story but in short yes the emotions the pettiness the the jibing the the jokes the it's all very human and i think they are again .

Stylizing those human relationships human emotions into that world but they're you know that that is not that is not an abstraction from the archaeological record the archaeological record doesn't give us those gods but it gives us the people that engaged in occult practices imagine .

These gods might intervene at any moment in their lives in some indirect or direct way um so we have those those kind of those kind of connections that we can explore so when we're finding sort of representations of potential deities in in our objects we're not seeing necessarily .

We can't get into the minds of past people but we can see the material world that's what archaeology can do and the other subjects can't you know we do so do you remember how a few weeks ago i was asking you did the vikings have a relationship with mermaids or mer culture because i know that the welsh have mermaid myths and they're more .

Fochuen which mermaid taught me that word um but because in in for my observation and again this is just me as like a fan girl i guess you can call me i'm not a learned person i don't have a degree in the subject or whatever i don't claim to be a historian because i'm not um how cultures how ancient people .

Interacted with the sea and like their creatures or their deities that came with it kind of give me a tip off on how they viewed the ocean right and what their relationship was with it okay now i'm not an expert on this and this is gonna be a bit of a fragmentary answer i'm sure there are people who are .

Well versed in scandinavian later mythology where mermaids probably appear a much more common thing in terms of norse and early medieval stuff we no i'm not too sure that's interesting i may be wrong i'm happy to be corrected but i don't think we have much mermaid culture what we do have though is .

Evidence that you know sea monsters were a vegan perception perceived entity and they were because wales you know schools of dolphins porpoises for small craft would be massive beasts in a way that only you know tiny rowing boats can reconstruct that sense of the size of sharks and the size of basking sharks .

And northern oceans we know that the um we know the north were whaling they were not simply just killing seals on the coast or they weren't simply they were hunting walruses in the high arctic they were hunt they were wailing for smaller whales they were killing small whales smaller whale species we found we've got archaeological evidence of whale bone .

Objects being traded across scandinavia so they're exploiting marine resources on a massive scale on massive scale not an industrial scale in the modern sense but they were there were coastal resources island communities coastal communities that were they were hunting and they were relying on beached whales there's a .

Wonderful icelandic saga wonderful as in grim icelandic saga account of a memorable event that happened in the 10th century remembered in a 13th century saga of a fight that broke out around us a whale carcass a big whale carcass and how many people were killed about i think about three or four .

Men were killed fighting over this whale carcass including one who ripped out a whale rib and stabbed another one you know while they were okay you know the point is if you were desperately starving people or you know or you know this whale could get you through a winter on fuel and food and .

You aren't gonna fight for it so we have some fascinating insights into well what were they well that leads me what were they doing with the whales what were they doing with them were they using the entire animal did they only harvest them for one thing everything later as as with later they were they were fuel of oil um they were .

Eating everything they could they were using the bones for objects so yeah so we're looking at um everything you could possibly exploiting everything of the animal and um so we we certainly have that economic aspect that's that's alive and strong .

In terms of sea you know myths of sea creatures i think we have to rely on much later scandinavian stories and i i don't know enough about them and i i certainly from the sagas one of the things that is really clear is is a sense of um that the land is inhabited by spirits and that sea spirits could can scare .

That can scare the land uh spirits away and so one of the things that we have from the saga literature is that the the ornamented proud heads figureheads on ships will be covered up when the ship approach land because otherwise it may be bad luck and .

Scare away the land the the land spirits now there's different ways of thinking about that does that just tell us a little bit of superstition or does it mean that they thought of the ship as an animated beast which often they were naming them as such .

And that they generally saw a tension between sea spirits and land spirits that was being enacted if they actually pulled because remember long so we're pulling them up onto the the beach so it may not be the approach as an approach of seeing them over the horizon that would scare the land spirits it's actually the idea that .

These these 30 meter long beasts you know wooden beasts human crafted ships are being pulled up onto the land that you had to cover the figurehead to prevent bad luck through the land spirits leaving the land that is so cool we don't know you see this is we have little hints from the 13th you .

Know 12 13th century stories recording pagan times but we're not really sure what what was behind that but we can imagine that pre-christian people and early christian people imagine the world as animated with spirits dangerous and benevolent both on land and sea but i don't know .

Enough about that i'll leave it at that because i'll i'm just i'll be going but that is so cool because like geo geographically where you're located um there are some very kind of actually in my opinion it sort of resembles the shores of newfoundland a little bit um it was like some cliffsides and like the relationship .

Between the the water coming up and smashing so if they were envisioning a tension between the land um deities and the ocean deities they were witnessing it in nature so to me that kind of makes sense right they would have been watching the storms come in and hit the rocks maybe they're watching like .

Envisioning a deity within the waves trying to overcome the rocks and then the rocks are still steady and they're staying firm and stuff that could have been they're they're observing nature around them right it's like oh i love that so much that is so cool i mean this is from a .

Christian poem an anglo-saxon pub has nothing to do with the vikings so much but it's to do with the most famous anglo-saxon poem we have surviving is the poem called beowulf and the poem from beowulf is a christian period poem but it contains a long it's part of a long oral hit tradition of legendary heroic poems telling the deeds .

Of monster slaying of legendary heroes you know back in the fifth sixth century in the migration period and what people forget about the the dragon in beowulf the bowel finally dies in the poem killing slaying a dragon that was living and guarding treasure in a mound um is that really we people think of it people .

Have looked to that poem for 150 years since its first 180 years since it was first transcribed and translated and thought about this dragon as a sort of fire breathing winged beast and we have smaug was tolkien took the idea of smile drake directly yeah well from fafnir involves song saga but also from .

Um beowulf and we have this beast that's very landward they land locked right but of course if you think about it and tolkien helps us here the dragon ends up in crashing into lake town and in the ruins of of lake town and it becomes it becomes submerged in water and tolkien got that idea directly from beowulf .

Because what they do after the dragon is slayed by wiglaf and beowulf is they haul this monster over a sea cliff into the water and so if you think about that what the poet is describing to the audience is the bones of a whale .

So what you know for the audience listening to this poem this this fantastical story the material connector the the anchor you know to use another maritime metaphor the anchor for the narrative are the bones of whales washed up on the seashore that are the bones of sea monsters .

And beowulf and whatever the dragon looked like in the imagination of the people telling the story of beowulf and you know they didn't have our modern fantasy literature dungeons and dragons dragons and smouts yeah it it it that beast which was part .

Serpent parts you know parts lion park you know all these it's a magical mythical beast but it ended up in the water ended up in the sea its body being smashed by waves against a sea cliff and therefore what they were thinking of was whale bone and you know the the link the link here is that the most one of the most amazing .

Eight century objects that we have surviving in the british museum is a casket of whale bone um that was clearly used as a reliquary to hold the the bones of a saint or the the relics linked to a story of a saint so a holy object that was made of whale bone and it actually says on it it's lit it's text it's it's runes inscribed on .

It say i'm you know made a whale bone so you have this in the in the early medieval imagination whales inspired the idea of dragons and inspired the idea of sea monsters and you know beasts that are found in the waves and also found on land you know and did they imagine these things that roamed in the past .

And tolkien's dragons both in the silmarillion and and and the lord of the rings that's why i mentioned talking because people probably more familiar with tolkien than they may be with bear wolf that they are a bit serpent bit aerial beast but also they end up in water a lot and they're related their fates .

Relate to water a lot both glaurong and smaug because tolkien's taking his ideas from these early medieval northern dragons and i think a lot of it i'm not trying to find a practical single explanation for why dragons were thought up i'm just saying people were imagining dragons ending up having a doomed fate in water whether they lived .

In water or ended up being dumped in it and i think that's really fascinating that is really fascinating because like if you look at the carcass of um any whale that you guys would have been encountering on your shores that would have washed up if you look at the carcass of a whale it doesn't really reflect the size of the body because .

Whales have a lot of soft tissue um and a lot of uh you know uh soft cartilage that can go away so the rib cage is kind of there and then their tail is very long right so that makes a lot of sense and even their pectoral fins when you look at the fin on the inside it looks like fingers right because they were once land mammals .

Right so that makes a lot of sense to me that why they would envision or draw like if you were to see a whale carcass for the first time ever and then draw what you think the animal would look like it would have it may fly because the pectoral fins look like angel wings kind of they look like wings i mean ancient people would have .

Accessed also um please you saw fossils dinosaur fossils they would have come across fossil bones as well there's been a whole discussion oh can you imagine what they would think they are there's a whole book about the about the potential i haven't really read it in detail but there is a whole discussion .

About whether ancient greek myths are inspired by you know and various other you know mythical beasts might be inspired by dinosaur fossils or you know not dinosaurs just dinosaurs but ancient ancient fossilized creatures of different ages including woolly rhinos and so on but then you also had the .

Genuine sea beast of our world and not only would have they seen them on the on the seacoast but you know in rivers biggest giant rivers like the humber the thames um you know the the rhine mouth uh you know the whole of the north sea coast would have had accidental whale beachings but also um wales where you would have .

Encountered them up close on a regular basis if you're a maritime people you would have been out with the dolphins out with the porpoises out with the smaller whale species in the estuaries i'm sure on a regular basis so people would have intimate knowledge of these beasts but not when their bones were washed up they may have .

The bones as you say inspired different stories perhaps you know yeah so yeah i think there's a whole series of interesting you know things we could explore further about these as someone said in my chat about the oceans as liminal spaces and thinking about the anatomy as a sort of yeah there's all sorts of interesting .

Points on my side in my comments sorry for like oh i'm glad that people are interested in our in my in my nonsense but like i also find that right another thing that fascinates me in regards to seafaring peoples um like the northern scandinavians you know uh early medieval welsh people english people scottish .

People irish people is that when you're in these boats that are made out of wood essentially the sound coming from underneath you not just the waves but if if a human being gets close enough to a sperm whale or a humpback whale um a sperm whale can vibrate you to pieces with its sound it will literally vibrate your body apart .

And a um humpback whale will uh rupture your eardrums melt your brain and rupture your spleen if you're too close to the sound that comes from these animals so the whale like that sound that comes so can you imagine what that noise would do to like ancient people who don't know anything .

Imagine you're in this phone and you do this all about that like this right you hear these noises coming you would hear a bunch of them because whales are pod creatures right they're in families so you would hear like multiple coming from around you and what would .

You okay no one move no one do anything don't say anything like this kind of thing so that's a brilliant point you know which is you know this is why talking to people so important who knows stuff about things that i don't because i hadn't thought about that at all about just the and just the unexpected nature .

Of it the scale of it and the damage it could do you know if you're too close i haven't really thought about all those points that's right and also we we do have historical records of um this is a little bit more during the wailing times but if you're telling me i didn't know this but if you're telling me that these cultures were whaling people .

Depending on the whales that they were actually hunting i'm not sure the species the whales have been known to strike back so the tale that we have of moby dick is based on a true story it's based on true events so if they're in this tiny little boat and like they hook themselves they would have to hook .

Themselves something small so they would be after a calf then that mama is coming straight at you with its head right they're very intelligent they're very very intelligent animals so there would be a high amount of danger there would be uh possible um again i don't know if they were hunting baleen .

Whales or toothed whales do you know the species of whale bone that are typically found in your area i've read up on this but i can't remember um i'll probably get it wrong if i say um a smaller whale species is what the the smaller whale species so i'm thinking maybe pilot wheels pilot whales was the term that i've heard used but .

Pilot whales are a false killer so they're toothed they have quite nasty teeth and um they're quite often no no no but they do have a lot of teeth and that would explain um you know like the dragonesque mouth um they're quite docile and sort of stupid and easy to get close to until you provoke them and .

Also whales sort of have a culture to them that they will pass down knowledge of danger so they change their migrational patterns they communicate and say hey see that that's dangerous don't do that don't go there so um we see this a lot with our canadian orca whales from the uh 70s craze of orca capturing for sea world .

And marine land um when a boat is out there you know mothers with the calves will go off in one direction and then several mothers with or several females without calves will go and lead the boats in a different direction um we see it in our humpback whales here in north america because of our whaling .

Craze uh their migratory patterns are still very different and they avoid traditional whale hunting grounds to this day even after i don't know it's about 120 years that whaling's been banned here so just thinking about that they would be hooking a smaller whale species .

Um and then the aggression that would be coming at them from the pod would also maybe influence their tales of sea monsters or their uh relationship with the water um because like it's interesting to me that they would be fighting over a whale carcass that really isn't good to eat .

Like once that whale gets up on the beach and once it's dyed its meat is kind of no longer good depending on how long it's been sitting there so that maybe tells me that they were afraid after a while to go hunt them that maybe something had gone on for so long that they were afraid to get in the water and actively .

Hunt them that they were just waiting i mean we don't have any detailed accounts no from this period it's very early but we do know that um it's not just the vikings we know that the bretons the the you know the the franks the anglo-saxons all these coastal peoples .

Were hunting but i was i'd imagine they were keeping away from the bigger beast but even so um you're in small vessels corrects and then long ships you're not gonna you're not gonna you've got to haul this thing back with you in some way we're gonna kill it first you gotta kill it .

I i mean we know in the pharaohs they have these gruesome you know trafficking in inlets and things and i mean i suspect that's more what's going on rather than going into deep water after these beasts um but but but still it's bit dangerous i mean walruses are dangerous you know .

A small weapon for small vessels i think we're looking at um um i think that uh you know i think they're gonna have to be very limited in what they can do but we do have we do have evidence they're utilizing marine resources exactly the details of that is .

Is is not as clear as well that's where our storytelling comes in absolutely absolutely yeah exactly it's a storytelling it's fantastical storytelling mixed in with a little bit of fiction and uh in fact and mixed in with your ability i think to change your opinion or change your story based on new evidence found .

Because i think that that's a huge thing right like you you make you've got this fantastical story you've got this picture that's forming and then all of a sudden someone unearths something else that either completely contradicts what you just said and found or whatever and i i see the scientific community kind of split on that that like they're holding .

Fast to their opinion nope this is the way they did things this is the and then but what about this thing i don't care yeah it's something else we're all guilty of it as i mean even about this guy here who everyone thought was prehistoric or 17th century and only last year did we find evidence that it's early medieval so it's just before the .

Viking age it's anglo-saxon it's probably eighth ninth century and you know i i had nothing riding on this this hill figure in dorset being of a particular day but just everyone it's lazily assumed various scenarios of its carving and then you have a situation where suddenly the evidence comes back and tells you something completely .

Different we've got to adapt and say yeah what are the implications of this new dating or new discovery how does this fit into the existing picture and it's and the thing the fun of archaeology i said that archaeology isn't just about discoveries but archaeology is an ever-increasing you know .

Resource of new information in a way that i'm afraid to say you know certain other historic disciplines are not unless we find like a whole there's a dead sea scrolls moment a discovery of whole new sets of texts does happen you know but really we're working with a finite and ever decreasing resource .

Of as these are as the preservation of these manuscripts depletes but with archaeology we're just growing all the time and with ice melting uh we're finding even more objects coming out of the ice from glaciers and you know that have been literally frozen for millennia and that's true of both .

You know dead species you know woolly rhinos willie mammoth and so on but also of artifacts that have been in permafrost for all that time and uh oh that is so cool there's so many new ways in which we're discovering about the past uh through archaeology and so in many ways the way rhetoric i always throw at uh historians .

To annoy them is that you know our history is historical research is just a minor specialist weird aberrant subset of archaeology you know we are we are the real subject studying the human story and you know you can do that with documents too i'm not saying there's nothing wrong with that but it's just a very odd way to spend one's time when .

There's so much archaeological evidence to entertain us and interest us for relaxing times make it archaeotest time


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