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Blog : Posts tagged with ‘Scotland’

Calling Dr Jones (part three)

In which we return to Tudor Parfitt, the Ark of the Covenant, and consider how archaeology has changed

About time I finished off writing about SOAS Modern Jewish Studies professor Tudor Parfitt, and his rather dodgy theory, shown on TV in his documentary The Quest For The Lost Ark, that the Biblical Ark Of The Covenant was not the ark that is biblically described, but was in fact a drum; that it was taken to Africa, survived in the possession of a Jewish tribe there, and that its final version is now in storage in an Harare museum. Which might make more sense if you read the previous posts I’ve written about it: part one, and part two.

Previously we’ve discussed the theory itself, and its basic flaw: in order for it to be true, every piece of evidence for the original ark’s existence has to mis-describe it in a fundamental way. Now, I want to discuss why Professor Parfitt might have come up with his rather misguided theory. He has trouble with a concept which archaeology itself had trouble with, in general, for many many years. The Parfitt theory states that there is a medieval African war drum which was constructed to replace an earlier Ark of the Covenant, so those earlier Arks, all the way back to the Mosaic period, must have been drums also. This is because Parfitt is unwilling to consider any degree of cultural change.

Cultural change is, as I said, a concept which archaeology has always had trouble with. In traditional archaeology, it was one of several concepts which was not so much discarded as never considered. Change in material cultures was almost always explained by means of migration, often mass-migration: wave on wave of homogeneous and distinct peoples moving about the map, rather like a game of Risk, never themselves changing. There are probably a few reasons for this. For a start, archaeology as a discipline arose after the formulation of the classic “nation state”, and during the period that the Western countries were dividing up the third world with lines across the map in just the same way that archaeologists then divided up prehistoric maps. For another thing, there was a rather patronising attitude that invention was rather too hard for “prehistoric barbarians” to do. If your stereotypical woad-covered Ancient Briton wasn’t up to inventing new stuff, then any archaeological change must come from outside. Small changes in style could be explained by trade; large changes by immigration.* This theory was known as “diffusion”, and was finally put to bed in the late 60s and early 70s.**

Cultural change took a long time to accept, partly because it complicates things. It’s not, itself, an easy explanation, compared to diffusion and migration. Moreover, archaeological theories of change were first adopted by “processual archaeologists”, who explained change in terms of biological and ecological analogies like the spread of muskrat populations. They were followed up by “post-processualists”, the postmodernists of the archaeological world, who liked to use words like “hermeneutics“. They introduced some important concepts into archaeological interpretation, but not in a very accessible way. Nevertheless, whilst processualists had given archaeologists tools and techniques for analysing technological change, the post-processualists’ concepts were the best means archaeologists had to discuss cultural change. I am, of course, wildly overgeneralising in everything I say here.

Looking at historical evidence, though, it’s hard to see why the supposed correlation between migration and cultural change was accepted for so long. Take British history, for example. In the first millennium AD there were three major migrations that we know about from British history prior to the arrival of the “Vikings”. The first, the Roman invasion, probably involved the fewest people of the three, but is extremely well-represented in both history and archaeology. The second, the invasion of the English-to-be, is represented in archaeology quite well, but there is huge debate as to the actual number of people involved. Particularly, genetic research has shown that the old 19th-century theory, that the Angles and Saxons completely replaced the previous Welsh-speaking inhabitants, is almost certainly wrong. The language changed, the rulers changed, but most of the people probably did not. The third, the migration of the Scots from Ireland into western Scotland, is well-known from history; it changed the language of western and highland Scotland, and the government of the whole country,*** but is impossible to find in the archaeological record. There are plenty of buildings and sites from the period in Scottish archaeology, but none of them give any indication that the culture of western Scotland was changing in the way that history tells us it did.

I had intended that this was going to be the final post about Tudor Parfitt’s Ark theory; but this post is growing to be rather larger than I’d thought it would end up. Additionally, my dinner’s ready. The final final part of these posts will talk more about cultural change, and show how it could, potentially, correct Professor Parfitt’s ideas.

The fourth and final part of this post follows, here »

* Moreover, changes in metalwork were seen as indicating trade or war, because metalwork must have been a man’s job, distributed either by traders (men) or raiding warriors (also men). Changes in pottery were seen as indicating mass migration, because pottery must have been “domestic”, made near the home, used by women, and so must have indicated homes, families, and therefore population movement. For a long time I’ve wanted to write a history of archaeology, largely because theories like that are so easy to take the piss out of.

** The final big nail in the coffin of diffusionism was when Colin Renfrew – now Lord Renfrew – used radiocarbon dating with tree-ring calibration to show that metalworking was probably first invented in south-eastern Europe. However, it’s a shame that people didn’t just look at it before that and go “actually, this is a stupid idea”.

*** and gave it its name, of course.

More Sheese, Vicar?

In which a correspondent is nauseated

Regular readers might remember that a few days back, in a rant about vegan food, I mentioned a vegan cheese substitute product I came across called “Sheese”, a kind of oil-water-soya paste packed to the gunnels with artificial flavouring to make it vaguely cheeselike.

Well, since I wrote that, I’ve had an email from someone I know in Glasgow, who, coincidentally, has encountered some of the ingredients that go into the stuff. They came into contact with one of their “brown cardboard barrows”, in which the “flavouring” mentioned in the ingredients list arrives at the factory. Their advice: avoid it.

Because the manufacturers, Bute Island Foods, are (as you might have guessed) on an island, they can’t get their supplies delivered straight to their factory, and have to pick it up from a Glasgow warehouse, where my source was visiting and happened to bump into it And it is, on their account, foul. It comes, I’m told, in sealed barrows, but despite the seal they smell so awful that my source couldn’t bear to be near them; they made him/her gag and want to throw up.

They said:

It’s like cheese powder that you buy in a packet to make cheese sauce, but I swear the smell was awful and the barrows were sealed. Honestly, I can’t even begin to tell you how bad the smell was.

So, there you go. Me, I’m going to stay eating real, low-on-the-additives food – and that includes real milk and real cheese, never mind how much “cow torture” I’m told it causes.


In which we discover something wrong on the internet

Last night, on TV, I was idly watching a documentary, Real Men, about the maintenance of the Forth Bridge. Rather interesting it was, even if the risks were a bit overstated sometimes.* One thing, though, puzzled me. It started off, as you might expect, with the history of the bridge: in the 1870s construction had begun on a Forth Bridge designed by Sir Thomas Bouch, previously responsible for designing the train ferries the bridge was to replace. In 1879, though, Bouch’s Tay Bridge collapsed catastrophically, so work on his Forth Bridge was stopped.

What puzzled me was: according to the narrator, the collapse of Bouch’s bridge is the origin of the phrase “a botched job”. Now, surely, that can’t be true. It has to be nonsense. According to my copy of the Concise Oxford, “botch” goes back to Middle English. It’s always meant roughly the same thing, I assume. There’s no way an event in 1879 can have created a phrase, when the word itself had been around for several hundred years beforehand. Can it? Wikipedia, and an awful lot of other websites, say that “bodge” and “botch” are both derived from Bouch’s name, even though “bodging”, as a type of carpentry, has been around for centuries. Does anyone have a copy of the full Oxford Dictionary to hand?

* “with High Speed Trains thundering past them” said the narrator. Well, yes, technically – but as far as I remember, from when I was a Fife commuter, they’re not going any faster than 50mph as they go across the bridge.

Update: in the comments on the original post, Greig left the following comment:

Does this help?

botch, n.2 SECOND EDITION 1989

(b{rfa}t{sh}) [f. BOTCH v.1 (Sometimes indistinguishable from fig. use of the prec.)]

  1. A botched place or part, a flaw or blemish resulting from unskilful workmanship. 1605 SHAKES. Macb. III. i. 133 To leaue no Rubs nor Botches in the Worke. 1645 MILTON Tetrach. Wks. 1738 I. 244 Let it stick as a notorious botch of deformity.

  2. fig. a. A clumsy patch; a meaningless or unsuitable word added for the sake of rime or metre. 1693 DENNIS Impart. Critick iii. 25 Every Epithet is to be look’d upon as a Botch, which does not add to the thought. 1707 SWIFT On Union Wks. 1755 IV. I. 283 By way of botch She piec’d it up again with scotch. 1780 WESLEY Wks. (1872) XIV. 341 In these Hymns there is no doggerel, no botches. 1861 A. BERESFORD-HOPE Eng. Cathedr. 19th C. 220 The difficulties of accommodation are honestly recognized and boldly grappled with, not by botches and makeshifts.

{dag}b. A mark like a clumsy patch, a blotch. Obs. 1715 Lond. Gaz. No. 5365/4 The other 4 [Sheep] cropt on the Right Ear, and a black Botch on the Left Hipp.

  1. a. A bungled piece of work. So botch-work. 1648 HERRICK Hesper. I. 104 Learne of me what woman is, Something made of thred and thrumme; A mere botch of all and some. 1845 LD. CAMPBELL Chancellors (1857) III. lvi. 130 When the writer tries to be light and airy, we have such a botch as might have been expected. 1870 HAWTHORNE Eng. Note-bks. (1879) I. 187, I have made a miserable botch of this description. 1876 HAMERTON Intell. Life II. ii. 406 Vastness of the interval, that separates botch-work from handicraft.

b. fig. 1864 E. A. MURRAY E. Norman I. 159 The men were not to be trusted, most of them being convicts, or ‘botches’ of one kind or other.

  1. a. = BOTCHER n.1 dial. 1855 Whitby Gloss., A Botch, a cobbler.

b. = BOTCHER1 3. dial. and colloq. 1829 J. KENNEY Illust. Stranger II. i. 24 Some botch of an embalmer, who had not done justice to Your princely remains. 1868 J. C. ATKINSON Gloss. Cleveland Dial. 59 He’s nobbut an aud botch. He’s mair lahk t’mar an t’mend.

botch, v.1 SECOND EDITION 1989

(b{rfa}t{sh}) Also 4 bocchyn, 5-6 botche. [ME. bocche-n, of uncertain etymology: having apparently no original relation to BOTCH n.1, though the words may have subsequently influenced each other. Prof. Skeat suggests for the vb. a LG. origin, comparing MDu. butsen, (1) to strike, beat, (2) to repair (Oudemans), app. related to Du. botsen to knock, dash, Ger. dial. butschen, butzen to strike, knock; according to Franck an onomatop{oe}ic word of echoic origin. But the sense ‘repair’ in Du. butsen seems to be recent, while in English it appears in Wyclif: also there is no sense ‘knock’ in English, so that connexion with the continental words is very doubtful. Perhaps the Eng. word is an onomatop{oe}ia related in its genesis to ‘patch’; cf. Ger. batzen to patch. See BODGE.]

  1. trans. To make good or repair (a defect, damage, damaged article); to patch, mend. Now only: to repair clumsily or imperfectly. Often with up. 1382 WYCLIF 2 Chron. xxxiv. 10 That thei enstoren the temple, and eche feble thingus thei bocchyn [1388 reparele alle feble thingis]. 1530 PALSGR. 461/1, I botche or patche an olde garment..I have botched my hosen at the heles. 1551 ROBINSON tr. More’s Utop. (Arb.) 69 Sicke bodies..to be kept and botched up. a1680 BUTLER Rem. (1759) II. 200 He does not mend his Manners, but botch them with Patches of another Stuff and Colour. 1863 FAWCETT Pol. Econ. IV. ii. 535 Botching and patching each single tax.

b. absol. To do repairs; to patch clumsily. 1580 TUSSER Husb. (1878) 166 Cobble and botch, ye that cannot buie new. 1730 SWIFT Dan Jackson’s Pict. Wks. 1755 IV. I. 249 At last I’m fairly forc’d to botch for’t. 1815 SCOTT Guy M. xxi, I labour and botch..and produce at last a base caricature. 1865 [see BOTCHING vbl. n.2]

  1. To spoil by unskilful work; to bungle. 1530 PALSGR. 461/1 To botche or bungyll a garment as he dothe that is nat a perfyte workeman. 1663 PEPYS Diary 26 Apr., Tom coming, with whom I was angry for his botching my camlott coat. 1850 BLACKIE Æschylus I. 293 This chorus seems hopelessly botched..and all attempts to mend it are more or less unsatisfactory. 1858 HAWTHORNE Fr. & It. Jrnls. I. 292 The greatest bungler that ever botched a block of marble.

  2. fig. trans. To put or stitch together clumsily or unskilfully; to construct or compose in a bungling manner. Often with up, together. 1561 T. NORTON Calvin’s Inst. III. v. (1634) 319 Augustines booke of repentance..botched of good and bad by some scraper together. 1678 CUDWORTH Intell. Syst. I. iv. 411 An ill-agreeing Drama, botch’d up of many impertinent Intersertions. 1768 TUCKER Lt. Nat. II. 124 One or two of Horace’s purple rags botched together with coarse seams of abuse.

b. To add as a patch. 1589 Pappe w. Hatchet (1844) 39 Botching in such frize iestes vppon fustion earnest. 1656 [see BOTCHING vbl. n.]

Memories of the year (part four)

In which we remember Scotland

This is just a short one. A romantic breakfast, in a supermarket in Greenock, squeezed between the railway and the firth. Haar is hanging over the firth,* and the far shore is out of sight. I’m sitting, looking at you, and wondering how many times I’ll be back here.

* except that it isn’t, because – according to East Coast people, at any rate – you only get haar on the East Coast. So any sea-fogs you get hanging over West Coast firths, and towns like Greenock, Rothesay or Wemyss Bay, can’t be proper haar. Any Scots reading feel free to correct me on this.

Ink Polaroid

In which we look up at the stars

This is a slightly faded memory, from a few years ago now, from the last time I was in the Outer Hebrides. It’s a late night, two in the morning or so, in August. You can hardly make out a thing in the darkness. There’s a crowd of us sat around in deckchairs, in the front yard of the University farmhouse, heads leaning back. We’ve all just returned from the “local” pub, about six miles away, and we’re sitting outside to watch for the Perseids. Out there on the Atlantic coast, the sky seems, strangely, lighter than elsewhere, because of the number of stars scattered across it. The sky is filled with patterns of light, coming from millions of years ago; and leaning back in a deckchair, the age, complexity and size of it all fills me with a slightly dizzy awe.* Every thirty seconds or so, a meteor flashes across the dark sky, and everybody watching smiles.

* Not to mention that the rocks beneath us, the Lewisian Gneiss Complex, were themselves nearly three billion years old, older than the light from some of the stars.

The look in your eyes

Or, Ken Stott Wore My Trousers

Glasgow just wasn’t Glasgow last Saturday. Why? We walked down Queen Street, and there weren’t any goths or skater kids standing around outside the art gallery. None. Not one. The pavements, though, were wet. “They must have all just been hosed away,” said C. We looked around the art gallery, but the main gallery was closed off for installation, and none of the rest was particularly impressive. Being too lazy to get on the subway and go out to Kelvingrove, we ambled back up Sauchiehall Street and got ready for our night out.

Sunday morning, I drove C to her ferry, out along the Clyde shore. I tried to admire the scenery, but it was full of mist. We stopped off at a supermarket in Greenock for breakfast, and talked about ourselves, each other, and everything. I worried I was being a bore, or a geek, and then worried I was worrying too much. “You worry too much,” said C.

I dropped her off at the ferry terminal. Feeling suddenly at a loss, I got out the camera, before setting off for the drive home.

Wemyss Bay

Wemyss Bay

Wemyss Bay

Wemyss Bay

A Sunny Day In Glasgow

In which we return to Scotland for the first time in a few years

When I looked out of my hotel window, I remembered why I missed the place. In a tower block above Charing Cross station, the random architecture of the city looked lovely in the early morning light. To the west, I could see the spire of the university.

I sprawled across the hotel bed. An enormous thing, it took over the entire room. I was alone in my bed that night, so I laid right across it diagonally, just because I could. An awful lot of things over the weekend, I did just because I could do.

Not bothering with breakfast, I showered, dressed, and wandered across Blytheswood Hill, up St Vincent Street and down towards Central Station. Glasgow always seems slightly American in flavour to me, with its city blocks, the street plan ignoring its hills, its urban motorways slashing through the city and over the river. It makes it awkward to navigate, though, if you can’t remember street names. I found my way without too much trouble, though, down towards the station. I was scared, and excited, but I wasn’t scared for very long.


In which a song reminds me of Scotland

…is one of my favourite cosy, romantic songs. It’s by The Clientele, and it goes something like:

The taxi lights were in your eyes
So warm again, St Mary’s spires
The carnival was over in the rain
And on and on, through Vincent St
The evening hanging like a dream
I touched your faith*
And saw the night again

When I lived in Edinburgh, I thought it was a song about the city. After all, the Clientele did record one song almost definitely set in Edinburgh,** and it has both a St Mary’s Cathedral (with distinctive spires)*** and a Saint Vincent St. Glasgow, though, has both too.

And in your arms, I watch the stars
Ascend, and sleep
The loneliness away for a while
Your fingers wide and locked in mine
I kiss your face, I kiss your eyes
Until they turn to me and softly smile

Edinburgh or Glasgow, I wish I was up in Scotland this weekend. I’m sure I will be again soon.

* Until writing this post, I thought it said “I touched your face”. Listening very carefully just now, for the first time I realised it’s actually “faith”.

** A B-side called “6am, Morningside”

*** Actually, it has two St Mary’s Cathedrals, just to confuse people. One of them, the Episcopalian one, has three distinctive spires that are a major city landmark, especially when you look down the length of Princes St. The Catholic one, on the other hand, is tucked away inconspicuously behind a shopping centre.

Flower of Scotland

In which we are grateful for health and safety

In the news today: military musicians are having their bagpipe practise time restricted for fear of giving them hearing damage. You’d think that if they joined the army they were willing to risk physical injury to start with, but there you go.

Bagpipes, apparently, are as loud as a chainsaw. As anyone who’s put up with Edinburgh buskers knows, though, chainsaws are rather more musical.

End of the week

In which we study the news

Update on Wednesday’s post: the piano atop Ben Nevis may have been identified. Or maybe not. Maybe large keyboard instruments have been carried to the top of Ben Nevis several times; nobody has any idea, to be honest. Which is probably as it should be.

Meanwhile, in the news – and in just about every news outlet you care to name – a BDSM-related “sex cult” has been uncovered in Darlington.* To be honest, after reading round it all I feel slightly sorry for the chap who runs the place. He seems to have been quite open about what he was doing, leading his girlfriend around on a leash in public and all, and seems to have been a bit surprised that the press have got a bit excited over it all. Personally, I don’t think he’s doing anything wrong. Gor isn’t my kink, but if that’s what people want to do, then let them.

* As I said, this story is everywhere at the moment, but I’m linking to The Guardian‘s version because it has the best headline.