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Posted in Archaeology, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Prehistory on Wednesday, 5 June 2013
This edited article about scientific hoaxes originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 280 published on 27 May 1967.
Charles Dawson with the learned expert Sir Arthur Smith Woodward
Even the most learned of people have fallen victims to clever hoaxers. Indeed, it is surprising just how easily professors and scholars have walked into the traps specially laid for them.
Early in the present century, a farm worker in Devon was digging a ditch alongside a field when his spade uncovered a large slab of stone. Deciding that it was just right for a path he was laying in his cottage garden, he started to scrape away the earth encrusting it.
To his surprise he found that under the earth was some lettering.
He then set to and thoroughly cleaned the slab to reveal the following inscription:
BEN. EA. TH. TH. ISS. T.
ONERE. POS. ET. H. CLAUD. COS. TER.
TRIP. E. SELLERO. F. IMPR. IN. GT.
TH. HI. SC. ON. SOR. T.J.A.N.E.
He hurried off to the village with his find and, showing it to a friend who was an amateur archaeologist, asked him what the inscription meant. His friend declared it to be some kind of Latin inscription, probably dating from the Roman occupation of Britain.
The archaeologist also copied the lettering and sent it, together with details of how the stone had been found, to a local newspaper. When the story was printed, it was read by several archaeologists who then came down to the village anxious to inspect the slab.
After that, the story of the find spread far beyond Devonshire, and more and more archaeologists became interested in what was thought to be a link with Roman Britain.
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Posted in Archaeology, Historical articles, History, Prehistory on Monday, 13 May 2013
This edited article about Primitive Man originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 252 published on 12 November 1966.
The two boys had been working all day in the flint mine, hacking away with their antler-horn picks and wedges to release the great nodules of flint which lay embedded in the chalk under the South Downs.
At last came a welcome, distant cry, echoing through the maze of crooked, underground passages. The sun was setting and the day’s work over. They crawled back along the eerily silent gallery, dragging their flint in large wicker baskets, till they came to a large, circular chamber, dimly lit from the narrow shaft in the roof, which reached up to the ground fifty feet above them. Other galleries led into the chamber and more miners were coming in, with their baskets of flint nodules.
Round the top of the mine shaft were scattered the small stone huts of some of the miners and flint workers, for they worked the flint themselves, on the spot, into the axes and adzes, hammers, spear heads and scrapers which the farmers needed in order to cut down the forest trees and clear their land for crops. But the boys’ family were farming people and their home lay a mile or two distant from the mine.
They hurried over the grassy downland and soon the settlement came into view, its earthen ramparts black against the setting sun. Surrounding, it were fields of barley and wheat, which had been carefully tended throughout the summer with flint hoes, digging sticks and antler picks.
The boys had helped to build the settlement themselves. It consisted of a large, circular ditch, with the earth from the ditch thrown up on the inner side to make a high bank, on the top of which was built a wooden stockade. At regular intervals digging had been stopped, leaving causeways of virgin earth which served as entrances.
At night time and during the winter, the herds of cattle and goats, sheep and pigs were kept in the innermost ring of the settlement, safe from robbers and marauding wild animals; and in the shelter of the ramparts the farmers had built their primitive shelters, of stone or wood, roofed with animal skins.
These people lived in Britain some four to five thousand years ago, practising some of the New Stone Age arts which had been discovered in the Near East hundreds of years earlier. Man had existed in Britain for fifty thousand years, but for the last twenty thousand years of the Old Stone Age he had advanced hardly at all. With the arrival of these newcomers there came a profound change, and from this time onwards development was steady and swift.
As early as 6,000 B.C., farming communities had become established in the valleys of the Nile and the Euphrates. Gradually these people spread westwards into Europe, bringing their new arts with them and, in the course of the long centuries, small groups, who had inherited the knowledge of the eastern New Stone Age, crossed to Britain with their flocks and herds and their grains of wheat and barley. One of the most interesting settlements is at Windmill Hill in Wiltshire and they are known as the Windmill Hill people. They were the first British farmers.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Prehistory on Saturday, 11 May 2013
This edited article about Primitive Man originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 251 published on 5 November 1966.
The sun blazed down from a burning, brilliant blue sky on to the pebble-strewn sandy waste across which the body of the chieftain was being carried. The ground was so hot that it burnt the boy’s bare feet and he could feel the heat of it on his body, through his thin, linen kilt, as though he were passing too close to some great furnace.
The procession was making its way from the steaming jungle of the narrow Nile valley towards the white limestone cliffs, a mile or two to the west, which led up to the great desert, a region where he had never yet ventured, for fear of the strange and evil spirits that lurked there, in company with the lions, wild oxen and jackals.
The grave was already prepared; an oval, shallow pit, dug in the sand and rock near the foot of the cliffs. The old man’s two sons had been carrying his body in a sling made of woven papyrus stems. Now they laid him gently in the grave, from which he would shortly be re-born to his new life. The other mourners stepped forward and placed in the grave their offerings for his journey to the unknown land of the dead.
The simple ceremony was soon over. The eldest son was now the chieftain of the tribe and he led the procession back to the valley and the familiar fields of his own village by the great river.
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Posted in Art, Historical articles, History, Prehistory on Friday, 10 May 2013
This edited article about Primitive Man originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 249 published on 22 October 1966.
They were living in a cave on the slopes of the Pyrenees, overlooking a mountain stream. The boy and girl had been watching the branch of a beech tree floating down the stream and it had set the boy thinking. He caught the branch and sat astride it in the water, but it sank under his weight.
The girl suggested they might fasten several small branches together. This they did, cutting them laboriously with their small, flint-bladed saws and lashing them with stout vine stems, to make a small platform. After several spills they managed to climb aboard and found themselves drifting downstream.
That night, when they returned to the cave, they ate well and were happy. There were only five of them in the family and they lived a lonely life, for they seldom met strangers. When they had finished their meal that evening, their father showed them his latest discovery in the cave, a bracelet carved from mammoth ivory. He placed it with the family’s sacred treasures, the little quartzite pebbles in which lived the souls of the family. He had painted each one with a simple, geometric pattern in red ochre. There were five still intact. Two others, belonging to the two little boys who had died, had each been split neatly in half, their ‘life’ taken from them just as the lives of the children had been taken, but the pieces were still carefully preserved.
These people were Azilians and they lived in Europe at the same time as the Tardenoisians, some nine or ten thousand years ago, when the forests had begun to grow again in Europe after the melting of the ice.
Perhaps they were descendants of the Magdalenians. Often they lived in the same caves that the Magdalenians had occupied thousands of years before, and the ornaments our family found were relics of reindeer horn and mammoth ivory which the Magdalenians had left behind them, while the tiny flints had been left by their Tardenoisian contemporaries, on their journeys northwards.
Azilian remains are found chiefly in Northern Spain and France. There were not many of these people but they reached as far as Scotland and settled near Oban and on the island of Oronsay.
They were a sturdy, thickset race, who could have been the ancestors of the people who now live in central Europe.
The mystery which is always associated with the Azilians is that of their painted pebbles, which have been found with their remains in northern Spain and south-western France. They painted them in all manner of strange devices, spots, stripes, crosses and zigzags, which were probably totemic signs, with some sacred or magical significance. Piles of these pebbles have been found, neatly and quite deliberately split in half. This custom of breaking a man’s possessions and burying them with him is often found amongst primitive peoples.
Posted in Animals, Historical articles, History, Prehistory, Weapons on Thursday, 9 May 2013
This edited article about Primitive Man originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 248 published on 15 October 1966.
The boy waded through the endless swamps, lagoons and sand banks which stretched on and on to the mainland of Europe. He was slightly made, deft-fingered and agile, and his slim brown body was naked save for a deer-skin cape and necklace of carved bone beads.
He was looking for oysters and mussels as he had done every day during winter. Soon he had collected a large pile, which he placed in a basket made of willow. Then he returned to the cave where he and his family had sheltered ever since the rains and winds of autumn had driven them down from the hills.
When the warm weather came the family returned to their old hunting grounds, where hares abounded and wild boar, oxen, stags, red deer, wild horses and cattle roamed.
It took them several days to reach the clearing in birch woods on the low hills which stretch south-eastwards from what are now the Essex borders to the Chilterns, where they had camped the previous summer. The hearth they had built and the remains of their huts were still there. The men found a fresh supply of flint, from which they made new weapons and tools, fashioning tiny arrow heads, darts and flint teeth for saws with delicate precision.
Each day men and boys went hunting with dogs, while the women collected berries, hazel nuts and roots, cleaned skins and made clothes from them. So they lived throughout the long, hot summer till autumn drove them down to lower ground again.
The family belonged to the Tardenoisian people, who lived in Britain nine or ten thousand years ago, when the great mass of ice which had covered much of Europe had at last melted and all the face of the Continent was changing.
In some places land had risen when the weight of ice was lifted from it. Elsewhere, lands were submerged as vast streams of melting ice raised the level of the sea.
Thus it was that, through long years, the North Sea, Baltic Sea and English Channel slowly formed. The Mediterranean came into existence too, and in Africa and Asia lands which had been fertile became drier and ultimately changed into desert.
As North Africa yielded to the Sahara desert, its inhabitants moved farther afield in search of new grounds. Among these were the Tardenoisians, who crossed to Spain and Northern Europe, some of them roaming over marshy wastes which were to become the North Sea, and reaching Britain.
The Magdalenians, who had flourished in Europe’s cold steppes and tundras 50,000 years earlier had fared badly when the thaw came. Their world suffered a slow but fundamental change. Mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses and reindeer died out or retreated to the arctic north. The great Magdalenian hunts could no longer be held. By the time the Tardenoisians arrived there were probably only two or three hundred Magdalenians left in Britain.
We know little about the Tardenoisians themselves. Their numbers were few, and their lives hard and primitive. They left few records except tiny flints and burial mounds, and evidence that they had tamed the dog, but they were very probably the ancestors of people who live today round the shores of the Mediterranean.
Posted in Animals, Anthropology, Art, Historical articles, History, Prehistory, Weapons on Wednesday, 8 May 2013
This edited article about Primitive Man originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 247 published on 8 October 1966.
The cave was dark and bitterly cold as the hunters tramped in silence for nearly a mile through its shadowy, damp gloom.
At last there was light ahead, from the glow of a dozen small stone lamps. The cave ended in a circular chamber, and at the far end was a stone bench on which sat the hunters’ chief.
The chief was wearing a great head-dress of reindeer horns, a heavy fur cloak, necklaces and armlets. Beside him stood a musician, blowing a final summons on his carved bone pipe.
The walls of the chamber were covered with paintings of animals. A huge bison, on a curving piece of rock, was startlingly rounded, shining and lifelike. Scattered on the floor were fragments of stone on which the artists had made trial sketches, horns in which they kept pieces of red and brown ochre and manganese for paint, and stone palettes.
The chief exhorted the hunters to be brave and tireless. Then he rose, picked up a superbly carved spear of mammoth ivory, stepped forward and pointed his spear at each of the paintings in turn. As he did so he incanted a magic spell, so that each of the depicted animals should quickly succumb to the hunters’ weapons.
The hunters set forth across cold, windswept tundra. After many hours they reached a wide plain. Spring was giving way to summer and it was along this plain that the herds of reindeer moved on their way northwards to new pastures. The hunters pitched their camp on the side of a tributary valley.
They did not have many days to wait. Within a week one of them spotted the leaders of the reindeer herds only a mile away, coming up the main valley from the south. As they drew close, some of the hunters drove them into the side valley, where the others awaited them. Soon the valley was crowded with hundreds of jostling, terrified animals and the entrance was barred . . .
The slaughter of reindeer went on all day and, as the sun set, the tribe rejoiced at their spoils, for they had acquired enough food, skins, horns and bones to keep them well fed, warm and busy for months.
These people, like the Aurignacians, were members of the Cro-Magnon race. They were Magdalenians, the last of the Old Stone Age people of Europe, and they are thought to have lived from about 70,000 to 50,000 years ago.
The Ice Age was drawing to a close, but during the 20,000 years that the Magdalenians were flourishing, the climate was still extremely cold.
The Magdalenians were skilled at making flint and stone implements, though these were never so fine as those of the Solutreans, a race of people who came into Europe in late Aurignacian times and may have been descended from the lost Neanderthals. The Magdalenians preferred weapons and tools of bone and ivory and, like the Aurignacians, they were brilliant artists.
The Solutreans disappeared from Europe with the period of cold which came at the end of the Ice Age, but the Magdalenians lived through it, and it was when Europe at last began to grow as warm as today, and the arctic animals retreated northwards, that the Magdalenians, unable to adapt themselves to changing conditions, gradually faded out of existence.
Posted in Art, Arts and Crafts, Historical articles, History, Prehistory on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about Prehistoric artists originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 246 published on 1 October 1966.
As the dawn wind rustled through the short grass, two boys stepped out from their cave. They were already as tall as their father, the elder one nearly six feet, and they walked well, shoulders square, heads held proudly, as they made their way up the bare hillside. Both wore fur cloaks, for even in mid-summer it was cold in France, and great ice sheets still covered the northern plains of Europe.
The tribe had come to this part of the country only a few weeks earlier. Sparse grass soon gave way to bare rock, and in the strangely silent dawn the boys kept close together, with a growing conviction of danger.
Suddenly came a sharp cry, half human, half animal. A large stone hurtled towards them, falling a few feet short. Peering over the top of the rock was a strange creature, jabbering incomprehensibly. His short, hairy body, bow legs and long arms were human, but his head was unnaturally large. The eyes were deeply sunk behind heavy eyebrow ridges and below his wide snout his chinless jaw sank into a thick neck.
The boys took to their heels. So monsters really did exist! The old people of the tribe sometimes told tales about them, when they gathered round the fire at night to warm themselves.
The rest of their people were now astir and the women were preparing a meal over the fire in front of the cave. A large hunt was to take place soon, and when the boys had eaten they watched the preparations. A large stock of weapons had already been laid in: spearheads of bone and ivory, finely worked flint knives, tools, chisels, scrapers, awls and fine bone points, which the women used as needles.
One craftsman was decorating his bone tools with incised lines. Nearby, a stone mason was making another engraving tool. Two or three younger men were fashioning horn and bone trinkets for themselves and the women.
In the deepest recesses of the cave, working by the light of small stone lamps with wicks of moss floating in fat, the true artists were painting the bare rock walls with realistic animals – bison, rhinoceroses, reindeer, woolly mammoths and wild horses. They used red ochre for their work, and as the boys watched they believed the hunt would be successful. For each animal the artist painted, its living counterpart would appear and magically succumb to their weapons.
The boys and their tribe were Cro-Magnons, one of several races who drifted into Europe from North Africa and the Near East during the closing phases of the Ice Age. The earliest, who arrived 70,000 years ago, were the Aurignacians, the first artists of the world. The primitive Neanderthals were still living in Europe at this time, but as the Aurignacians prospered and increased the Neanderthals gradually faded away.
The Stone Age culture of the Aurignacians lasted about 30,000 years. Europe was still cold, but there was abundant fish and game. They had time to develop their artistic talents and to try and control their destinies. At first they used magic, but later they became aware of a power in life greater than themselves and formed religious beliefs.
A number of their camps and caves have been found throughout central Europe in Italy, Spain and France. A few of these Aurignacians reached as far north as Britain, which had not yet been divided from Europe.
Posted in Animals, Historical articles, History, Prehistory on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about Neanderthals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 245 published on 24 September 1966.
Cavemen of the cold spell survived where others had not by Angus McBride
It had been a long, hard winter, and for weeks the little group of men, women and children had been snowbound in the cave where they had taken shelter during the first autumn gales. It was still bitterly cold, but the first signs of spring had come.
Two or three women crouched near the cave entrance, where a fire was burning, and gazed across the ice and snow of the Derbyshire hills. They were all hungry these days, and had been for several weeks. Their stock of winter food was almost gone. That was why the men had gone out on their first hunting expedition of the year.
In the valley the snow was beginning to melt and the hunters had seen the track of a reindeer. They set off full of hope, well armed with tools and weapons they had been making throughout the dark winter days – arrows and spears with flint heads lashed with sinews to wooden shafts; knives and scrapers fashioned from flakes of flint; and balls of limestone which they used as sling stones.
The hunters reached the lower slopes of a hill and crossed a small stream. Presently a solitary reindeer came down to drink. One of the men took careful aim and stunned it with his sling stone. The reindeer fell and they killed it with their knives and axes. Reindeer meat was their favourite food, but they knew it would not last for long, with twenty of them living in one cave. They were after bigger game – bison, wild cattle or horses, giant deer or a cave bear. The leader and two companions left the older hunters to skin and cut up the reindeer while they pressed on.
At last they saw what they wanted. A massive bison was making its way through the trees. It was bigger than any of the hunters, who were none of them over five feet tall. Their heads were large in comparison with their bodies, but their skulls were thick and their foreheads and chins receding. They shambled along with a slow, shuffling gait, scarcely upright. All the same, their hard life had sharpened their wits.
The leader remembered the game pit he had dug the previous autumn, before the ground hardened. The bison, on its way to find water, was heading straight for it. They were about half a mile behind when the bison disappeared. Soon they reached the pit, eight to ten feet deep, with pointed wooden stakes projecting from the sides. Sure enough, the bison had fallen into the trap and was swiftly despatched with knives and spears.
That night in the cave they ate well, roasting the meat and enjoying marrow from bones as an added delicacy. The split bones were piled on the fire to help out the dwindling supply of wood, and the women set to scraping skins for additional clothing and blankets.
These people were the Neanderthals, the first true cavemen. So far about fifty of their skeletons have been found in Europe. They wandered into Europe, perhaps from the south-east, probably forty or fifty thousand years ago, when the third warm spell of the Ice Age was ending. The Abbevillians, first men of Europe, had disappeared thousands of years ago, and their successors, the Acheulians, had not been able to survive as the fourth period of increasingly icy weather crept over the Continent. But the Neanderthals withstood it, because they took to the shelter of caves.
Posted in Anthropology, Historical articles, History, Prehistory on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about the Abbevillians originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 244 published on 17 September 1966.
He lay sprawling on his stomach, by the edge of a gently rippling stream. The deep-set eyes in his heavy face, with its beetling brows and chinless jaw, stared into the water. He eased his naked, hairy body across the rock which overhung the water, for he knew that a speckled, brown trout was underneath it.
A hippopotamus came swimming lazily downstream. It reached a small, rocky island and heaved itself out of the water to bask in the early sun. On the opposite bank, shaded by palm trees, was a dense thicket of bamboo. Suddenly there was a sharp snap. The man glanced up. With a squeal, a huge, hairy elephant crashed through the bamboos, ears outspread as it reached for the shoots and bit them off with its powerful jaws.
The man waited patiently. The breeze was blowing against him and the elephant did not catch his scent. He leant slowly forward again. The trout was still there. His fingers closed round it, just below the gills, and in one swift movement he swept it out of the water.
He shambled back to his camp a few yards upstream, to join his two children and their mother. The woman was digging up roots for their morning meal with a rough wooden stick. The elder boy sat in a fig tree, throwing fruit down to his younger brother.
The man picked some flints from the river bed which the running water and tumbling rocks had worn away, leaving useful cutting edges. These the boys used as hand-axes to cut down firewood.
The family spoke very little to each other, for their brains were small and they had not yet learned to express themselves and exchange thoughts: and in their strange, lonely world they hardly ever met other human creatures, for there were, as yet, very few of them in existence.
These people, known as the Abbevillians, were the first human creatures to inhabit Europe. They used wooden and stone tools; they could make fire; they lived on fruit and roots, fish and, perhaps, occasionally the flesh of animals. They camped by the sides of the rivers. This is all we yet know about them.
They lived during the European Ice Age, which lasted half a million years. This Ice Age was not one continuous cold spell, but four icy periods with three warm spells in between – and the Abbevillians lived during the first of the warm periods, when the climate of Europe was much as it had been before the first ice, as warm as the tropics are today, with similar trees, plants and animals.
All we have yet found of the Abbevillians was discovered near Heidelberg, in the upper Rhine valley, and consisted of a human jaw bone with, close by, a few bones of elephants, rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses. But elsewhere in Europe, flints of the same geological age have been discovered, some made by hands, others so primitive that it is difficult to say whether they were formed by nature or by man.
The ice and snow of the second phase of the Ice Age began slowly to creep down from the north over Europe. Gradually the animals wandered south, towards the warmer latitudes of Africa and Asia. Did Abbevillian man go with them, or did he stay behind to die of cold or starvation? We do not know, for we have never found later traces of him, and the next human beings did not appear in Europe till the second warm spell of the Ice Age arrived, thousands of years later.
Posted in Biology, Insects, Nature, Prehistory, Wildlife on Monday, 29 April 2013
This edited article about insects originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 234 published on 9 July 1966.
Huge dragonfly-like insects lived in prehistoric forests
Two questions which will probably occur to anybody who looks at insects in all their variety are: “Why are there so many of them?” and “Where did they come from?”
Study of the lives of insects gives us an idea as to why there should be so many, for every different sort does a particular job which is not done by anything else in the area in which it lives. The large numbers of different species can be accounted for by the limited abilities of each one, for there are few “Jack-of-all-trades” among insects.
To discover how insects came into being is much more difficult, for in the animal kingdom are many related creatures. Spiders and crabs, for example, both have jointed legs attached to a hard skeleton outside the body. But these are cousins, not ancestors, to the insects.
We know what the ancestors may have looked like, however, through the discovery of a “living fossil” type of animal, known from many tropical parts of the world. This is called Peripatus, or Velvet Worm, because its body is covered by a huge number of tiny bumps which look like plush.
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